Thanks to a dramatic 1-0 win over the San Antonio Scorpions on Saturday night, the Atlanta Silverbacks are atop the North American Soccer League standings for the first time ever. Their reward, you ask? Try a cross-country trip two days later to play one of Major League Soccer’s top teams.
The Silverbacks visit Real Salt Lake on Tuesday night for a third-round U.S. Open Cup clash at Rio Tinto Stadium. The game, which kicks off at 9:30 p.m. ET, will pit two former teammates, Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis and Silverbacks Head Coach Brian Haynes, against each other for the first time.
The duo, along with Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerwey and assistant coach Jeff Cassar, won the 1997 U.S. Open Cup while playing with the Dallas Burn.
Tuesday night’s game features a pair of sides that have gotten off to good starts in 2013. After posting a solid 3-1-1 league record in May, Real Salt Lake now sits in third place in MLS’ Western Conference, while the Silverbacks are two points clear of the Carolina RailHawks and Tampa Bay Rowdies atop the NASL standings.
The Silverbacks have won three straight across all competitions, including a pair of shutout wins in the league. Midfielder Danny Barrera scored in the 86th minute on Saturday night to earn the Silverbacks three points against the lowly Scorpions. The game featured an encouraging defensive performance by a Silverbacks’ back line that seems to be finding their way after stumbling out of the gate this season. The Silverbacks have only conceded two goals in their last three games after giving up 11 in their first five.
Real Salt Lake comes into Tuesday’s game on the heels of a 1-1 draw at home against the Chicago Fire. Costa Rica international Alvaro Saborio returned from a long injury layoff to give Real Salt Lake what looked to be the game-winner in the 78th minute, but a scissor-kick goal from Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa six minutes later gave the visitors a share of the points.
To clinch the matchup with Real Salt Lake, the Silverbacks escaped nearby Conyers with a 3-2 win over NPSL side Georgia Revolution. A pair of goals from former FC Dallas forward Ruben Luna helped the Silverbacks advance to the third round of the Cup for the second year in a row.
The Silverbacks will hope that this year’s third-round matchup goes better than it did last year. The team bowed out to eventual finalists Seattle Sounders FC, losing 5-1 at Starfire Soccer Complex in Tukwila, Wash.
Real Salt Lake will also be looking to avoid a second consecutive third-round defeat. Kreis’ team fell to NASL side Minnesota Stars FC (now Minnesota United FC), 3-1, last year at Rio Tinto Stadium on a day Kreis recently called “one of the worst in the club’s history.”
Although it’s unknown what kind of lineup Kreis will put out, the Claret and Cobalt are led by Saborio and midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales. Beckerman, a full U.S. international serves as the club’s holding midfielder, while Morales is known as more of a playmaker. Another U.S. international, forward Robbie Findley, adds pace to the club’s front line, while veteran Nat Borchers leads the back line with more than 150 club appearances to his name.
Barrera, who was named NASL Player of the Week yesterday, leads the Silverbacks midfield, and has formed a nice partnership with El Salvador international Richie Menjivar and former Chivas USA midfielder Milton Blanco. Forward Ruben Luna leads the team in scoring with six goals in all competitions.
The winner of Tuesday night’s matchup will host the winner of the Charleston Battery/San Jose Earthquakes matchup on Wednesday, June 12.
To watch the Silverbacks and Real Salt Lake battle it out at Rio Tinto Stadium, you can watch the live stream here. The Silverbacks will also be providing live Twitter updates at @ATLSilverbacks.