The Atlanta Silverbacks are facing their biggest game of the season on Saturday night, visiting the first-place Carolina RailHawks at WakeMed Soccer Park in an all-important matchup with NASL Spring Season championship implications.
The Silverbacks sit just two points behind the RailHawks with two games to play, meaning Saturday’s matchup in Cary, N.C. could decide the NASL Spring Season championship race.
One week ago, it was the Silverbacks who were in the driver’s seat. Head Coach Brian Haynes’ team was one point clear of the RailHawks and getting ready to host the visiting Tampa Bay Rowdies in front of a sellout crowd. The RailHawks, meanwhile, were playing against then third-place Minnesota United FC.
The RailHawks conceded a pair of early goals to go down 2-0 before the Silverbacks and Rowdies even kicked off. The tables would end up turning, however, with the Silverbacks falling, 2-1, at home to the Rowdies and the RailHawks storming back to grab an improbable 3-2 win.
Before this weekend’s festivities begin, the Railhawks have quite the trip ahead of them. Head Coach Colin Clarke and his team must travel to Rio Tinto Stadium for a massive mid-week fixture against Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. After the game, the Railhawks will then fly all the way back to the Triangle to prepare for the Silverbacks, who have already beaten them once this season.
Speaking of the first meeting between these two teams, it came on May 18 at Atlanta Silverbacks Park and ended as a 2-0 result in favor of the Silverbacks. At the time, the RailHawks were in first place, meaning a Silverbacks win this weekend could be the second time the RailHawks relinquish first place to their southern counterparts. Goals from forward Ruben Luna and defender Martyn Lancaster, as well as help from a second-half red card to RailHawks midfielder Floyd Franks, clinched the Silverbacks a memorable victory – their first against the RailHawks since joining the NASL in 2011.
The Silverbacks may have emerged as winners in front of their home crowd back in May, but they now have to go to a place, WakeMed Soccer Park, where they haven’t won since joining the league. As a matter of fact, the best result the Silverbacks have been able to manage in Cary was a 4-4 draw at the beginning of last season.
Playing away from home hasn’t scared the Silverbacks this season, though. They have only suffered one road loss, which came at FC Edmonton, and have earned wins in Fort Lauderdale and Tampa and a draw in San Antonio. With the title on the line, they will attempt to do what no other team has done this season (including two MLS teams) - defeat the Railhawks at home.
If the Railhawks defeat the Silverbacks on Saturday night, then the Spring Season title is all but assured. It will be up to Haynes’ side to keep their title hopes alive with a win or a draw. The Silverbacks get midfielder Danny Barrera back from suspension and have also received a recent boost in the form of defender Shane Moroney, who has returned from an injury that kept him out since the second week of the season.
The Silverbacks’ back line will have its hands full on Saturday night, with RailHawks forward Brian Shriver entering the match as the league’s leading scorer by a margin of three goals. Two of Shriver’s eight league goals came in the dying minutes of their 3-2 win over Minnesota United FC last weekend, earning the Florida native NASL Player of the Week honors.
Speaking of goals, they have been hard to come by for the Silverbacks lately. The Silverbacks have scored exactly one goal in each of their last four league games, but thanks to good defense, they have remarkably taken seven points from those games. Forwards Pedro Mendes and Luna are looking to get back on track after a good start to the season, and Haynes might also inject Pablo Cruz into the fray after he scored his first league goal last weekend.
If the Silverbacks were to manage a win or draw this weekend, then the NASL Spring Season championship would come down to the last weekend of league play. On July 4, the Silverbacks travel to the NSC Stadium to take on Minnesota United FC, while the Railhawks travel to Toyota Field to play the San Antonio Scorpions in their last game of the season.
Kickoff between the Silverbacks and RailHawks is at 7:00 p.m. ET on Saturday night at WakeMed Soccer Park. To watch the game live online, click here.