|Silverbacks Kick Off 2008 SaturdayFriday April 18, 2008|
ATLANTA—The Atlanta Silverbacks kick off USL-1 league play 7:55 Saturday night at Silverbacks Park against heated rival Carolina RailHawks.
The match is the first of the 2008 season for both clubs. In four games last year the two clubs split points going 1-1-2.
The Silverbacks are coming off the most successful season in the nine-year history of the club, finishing 15-10-11 in all competitions, and good for fourth in the 2007 USL-1 league table—the highest finish for the club since the league switched to a single table in 2005—and advancing past the post season tournament first round, also a club first. The Silverbacks rode a wave of momentum into the post season, knocking off Rochester 3-1 in goal aggregate in a home and away series. The historic win put the Silverbacks through to the semifinals, facing a heavily favored Portland Timbers club, playing to a 1-1 draw in the home leg of the series. After 120 minutes of scoreless play at Portland, goalkeeper Ryan McIntosh's save in the penalty kick shootout fourth round put the Silverbacks through to the finals versus Seattle. Playing at Seattle, the Silverbacks were unable to come back after conceding an early goal, eventually falling 4-0.
The Silverbacks return 12 players from 2007 including USL-1 Defender of the Year, David Hayes, leading scorer Warren Ukah, and captain Rodrigo Rios. In the offseason head coach Jason Smith—32-33-16 in his third year in charge—worked the transfer market adding speed and depth to the side, acquiring the speedy left-sided midfielder Ansu Toure from Minnesota, central defender Zach Kirby—an Atlanta youth soccer product and 2007 Los Angeles Galaxy draft pick—and the versatile Jason McLaughlin from Vancouver. McLaughlin, who has been utilized both in a wide midfield and more advanced positions during the preseason, featured 23 times in 28 appearances, tallying five goals and two assists for the Silverbacks in 2006 before his transfer.
The Silverbacks will be without the services of Scott Buete and Ukah, along with the newly acquired Toure and midfielder Mike Ambersley, all of whom had figured heavily into Smiths plans entering the season. Buete and Ukah are both on loan to indoor clubs Baltimore Blast and Milwaukee Wave respectively. The two clubs are going head-to-head in the league's semifinals. On Wednesday Buete's Baltimore side topped Milwaukee 13-8 in the opening match of the two game series. The series will be decided on Sunday, with the league finals April 26. Toure will miss Saturday's match due to a red card suspension he picked up at the end of last season while playing for Minnesota. Ambersley, an attacking central midfielder who enjoyed an impressive rookie season with Rochester, injured his knee in the first week of preseason. An explorative scope last week revealed torn cartilage and will require surgery, knocking him out of action for at least four months. Toure will
The Cary, North Carolina-based RaliHawks, which entered the league in 2007 as an expansion club, finished its first season in eighth place in the league table (8-12-8), earning the final post-season spot against eventual champion Seattle.
The RailHawks key returning players include captain Frankie Sanfillippo, along with team MVP Kupono Low, goalkeeper Chris McClellan, defender David Stokes, and leading scorer Connally Edozien, who tallied seven goal in 26 appearances last season. In the offseason second-year head coach Scott Schweitzer added considerable firepower, signing Jacob Coggins—who led USL-2 in scoring in 2007 with 12 goals and seven assists—from Charlotte, and USL-1 point leader in 2007 Dan Antoniuk, who left the Silverbacks to join Carolina in the offseason.
The RailHawks will be without the services of defenders Joey Worthen and Stokes. Both are serving suspensions for yellow card accumulation last season.
The Silverbacks went 1-1 at home against the RailHawks last season, winning 2-0 on May 5 before falling 2-1 a week later.
Dan Antoniuk will make his debut for the RailHawks against his former club. In 2007 Antoniuk led the league in points (23) and assists (9), and was named to the league's Best 11 squad.
Newly acquired midfielder Ansu Toure will have to wait until April 25 to make his Silverback debut. He was ejected from Minnesota's final game of the 2007 season. The resulting suspension carried over, despite his change of clubs.
The Silverbacks will be without the services of leading scorer Warren Ukah and team MVP Scott Buete. Both were loaned to MISL indoor teams for the offseason. Ukah plays for Milwaukee Wave; Buete is with the Baltimore Blast. The two clubs are facing each other in a two-game semifinal series. The Blast won the first game of the series 12-8. The second leg of the series is on Sunday. Baring any injuries, either Buete or Ukah will be available for the Silverbacks Friday fixture versus Montreal.
What was initially though a sprain turned out to be much worse for newly acquired midfielder Mike Ambersley. The offseason transfer from Rochester injured his knee the first week of preseason. Initial MRI results did not show any cartilage damage. After not responding to treatment, an exploratory scope was performed, revealing a partially torn cartilage that will require surgery to repair. He is expected to miss a minimum of four months, but could return late in the season.
Atlanta Silverbacks Park received more than $2 million in upgrades over the season, including upgraded restrooms and concessions, a new entrance on the south side of the stadium, upgraded player dressing and training rooms, and other improvements. Though nearly all of the work will be completed by opening day, there will be a few odds and ends that will not be complete until next Friday's nationally televised match versus Montreal.
Saturday's fixture is a Southern Derby dress rehearsal. The competition between the Silverbacks, RailHawks—2007's winners—and Charleston Battery is decided by the number of points accumulated in the final home and and away results between the clubs. Derby points will be decided in the May 10 away and May 31 home fixtures between the two clubs.
As a means of thanking the thousands of faithful fans who helped make 2007 the most successful on the field and off in the nine year history of the club, the Silverbacks and their many generous sponsors will be treating fans at Saturday's home opener to dinner. A catered meal will be served to all ticket-holders, beginning five minutes after kickoff through the 60th minute mark of the match.
Carolina RailHawks at Atlanta Silverbacks
Saturday, April 19
7:55 p.m. kickoff
2008 Record: 0-0-0
2007 Record: 15-10-11
2007 Head to Head: 1-1-2
Key Returners: Ryan McIntosh (G), David Hayes (D) Matt Bobo (D), Justin Moore (D), Martyn Lancaster (D), Rodrigo Rios (M), Tony McManus (M), Mac Kandji (M), Scott Buete (M), Warren Ukah (F)
Key Acquisitions: Zach Kirby (D), Josh Bolton (D/M), Ansu Toure (M), Jason McLaughlin (F/M), Nathan Knox (F), Jerson Monteiro (F)
Mike Ambersley (M)—Injured
Ansu Toure (M)—Suspended
2008 Record: 0-0-0
2007 Record: 10-11-8
2007 Head to Head: 1-1-2
Key Returning Players: Chris McClellan (GK), Frankie Sanfilippo (D), Chad Dombrowski (D), Caleb Norkus (M), Connally Edozien (F), Kupono Low (F)
Key Acquisitions: Daniel Antoniuk (F), Jacob Coggins (F)
David Stokes (D)—Suspended
Joey Worthen (M)—Suspended