The Atlanta Silverbacks continued their winning ways with another preseason victory - this time topping the University of Alabama-Birmingham, 2-1, Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Silverbacks Park. The game served some significance, as it marked the official return to the field for the Silverbacks rostered players.
Silverbacks Head Coach Brian Haynes had been fielding only trialists in the two preseason games leading up to Saturday's clash, but with those player evaluations coming to a close, it was time to get the players who are under contract with the club some preseason playing time.
Like the two previous preseason games this year, the two sides played three 30-minute periods, with both coaches wanting to experiment with different lineups and groups of players. In the opening stanza, the Silverbacks lineup was made up of all trialists. The home side dodged a bullet when UAB failed to put away a breakaway opportunity midway through the first period. Overall, though, the Silverbacks controlled the early part of the game, creating several scoring opportunities and forcing the UAB goalkeeper into several decent saves.
Haynes then gave Silverbacks fans what they have all been waiting for - their first look at the rostered players. Goalkeeper Joe Nasco, defender Mike Randolph, and forward Horace James trotted out onto the field for the second 30-minute period. It didn't take more than five minutes for one of the rostered players to make an impact, with James putting the Silverbacks ahead in the 35th minute. The Jamaican jumped high to meet a long cross from the right side, powering a header into the corner of the net from about 10 yards out.
Just two minutes later, Nasco was called upon to make a big save as the UAB attack burst through the middle of the Silverbacks defense. The big goalkeeper dove to his left to parry the ball wide for a corner kick.
With a 1-0 advantage going into the final 30 minutes, the Silverbacks fielded a strong lineup featuring all rostered players. Forward Pedro Mendes was complimented in the attack by midfielders Borfor Carr, Danny Barrera, and Pablo Cruz, while midfielders Richie Menjivar and Milton Blanco patrolled the area in front of the back four. Martyn Lancaster anchored the defensive unit, and he was joined by Mark Bloom, Beto Navarro, and Willie Hunt. Eric Ati was between the posts.
Even with the Silverbacks firepower on the field, UAB quickly found an equalizer albeit an unlucky one from the home team's point of view. A ball was crossed into the penalty area and took an unfortunate deflection off a Silverbacks defender, flying past a helpless Ati.
It was the Blazers' only chance of the third period, with the Silverbacks dominating possession and controlling the game. Mendes, Barrera, Cruz, and Carr all went close for the Silverbacks, but it was an unlikely source that would provide the eventual game-winner in the 85th minute. Barrera fired a shot from the edge of the box, forcing the goalkeeper to spill a rebound, and it was Blanco that would pounce on the ball and sweep it into the back of the net to make it 2-1.
The Silverbacks' next preseason game comes this Sunday at 4 p.m. when they host Nashville FC at Atlanta Silverbacks Park. Admission is free to the public.