After a month-long layoff from NASL action, the Atlanta Silverbacks return to the field this Saturday against Minnesota United FC at NSC Stadium in Blaine, Minn.
Plenty has happened since the Silverbacks’ last NASL game – most notably clinching the league’s Spring Season Championship - which happened in dramatic fashion on the final match day on July 4.
Head Coach Brian Haynes’ team now enters NASL Fall Season action knowing that they have already booked their place as the host of November’s Soccer Bowl – a position every other NASL team would love to be in at this point in the 2013 campaign.
While the early part of July was filled with deserved vacations and championship celebrations, the team got right back to work over two weeks ago, training and playing a pair of friendlies. The first of which came against local NPSL side Georgia Revolution and most recently, the team welcomed Guatemalan side Club Xelaju MC to Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
Both fall season tune-up matches ended up as Silverbacks victories. Reserves and trialists led the team to a 2-1 win over the Revolution, while a more first-choice lineup defeated Xelaju 3-2 in front of a sellout crowd at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
Forward Danny Barrera turned in a “Man of the Match” performance against Xelaju last Saturday, netting a pair of goals – the first of which was a stunning free kick from 25 yards out. Barrera, named the NASL Player of the Week on May 27, will look to continue that form as NASL Fall Season play opens up this weekend.
The Silverbacks will have somewhat of a target on their back after winning the first half of the season, and that couldn’t be more true for this weekend’s clash in Minnesota. The Silverbacks humbled Minnesota United on July 4, posting a convincing 3-0 win away from home – a result that Manny Lagos’ club will surely want to wipe from their memory.
Minnesota United also enters Saturday’s game on the heels of a pair of tune-up matches. They defeated fellow NASL side FC Edmonton, 2-0, at NSC Stadium and NPSL side Thunder Bay Chill, 4-0, at Chapples Park.
Finishing in seventh place in the NASL Spring Season standings, Minnesota United failed to meet the lofty expectations placed on them going into the 2013 season. The team struggled in the spring, despite signing several big names during the offseason. One of those big names was midfielder Bryan Arguez, who they have since shipped to the Carolina RailHawks in exchange for midfielder Floyd Franks. Franks, who was sent off as a member of the Railhawks in their 2-0 loss to the Silverbacks earlier in the year, will be joined by fellow newcomers Calum Mallace and Sinisa Ubiparipovic. Mallace, a defender, and Ubiparipovic, a midfielder, come to Minnesota on loan from MLS side Montreal Impact.
The Silverbacks head into Saturday’s match with largely the same group of players that earned them the title in the spring. Forward Ruben Luna has departed for opportunities in France, while defender Mark Bloom has headed to MLS side Toronto FC on loan, but everything else has stayed the same.
One Silverbacks player didn’t get the luxury of a midseason break, and that’s midfielder Richie Menjivar, who helped lead El Salvador to the Gold Cup quarterfinals in July. Menjivar has returned to Atlanta as sharp as ever, though, and can apply his Gold Cup experiences to NASL league play – especially playing against the U.S. Men’s National Team in Baltimore.
The Silverbacks are going for their third straight win at NSC Stadium, dating back to the middle of the 2012 season. These two teams have met twice this year, with each team claiming a victory at the other’s home stadium. Minnesota United left Atlanta with a dramatic 3-2 win in April.
The game will kick off at 8 p.m. ET in Blaine, Minn. on Saturday, and it can be seen live online at atlantasilverbacksfc.com. Those that would like to watch the game with fellow Silverbacks fans are encouraged to attend the club’s Watch Party at the Elder Tree Public House in East Atlanta Village.