Atlanta, GA. (July 27th, 2013)- It was a cool, breezy, evening for my first foray covering professional soccer. The North American Soccer League’s (NASL) Atlanta Silverbacks welcomed one of Guatemala’s top clubs, Xelaju MC, to their home pitch for a friendly match before the August 3rd start of the NASL’s spring season.
The Silverbacks played their first game since capturing the spring season title, which promises them the opportunity to host the 2013 soccer bowl. The Silverbacks will play the winner of the upcoming fall season on Saturday, November 9th.
Nearly a month had past since the Silverbacks last took the pitch in a 3-0 defeat of Minnesota United FC on July 4th. Any thoughts of rust were quickly dismissed after Silverbacks midfielder Danny Barrera netted a 25 yard set piece attempt just above the far right side of the 18 yard box on the field’s South goal.
“I was going for the far post, but I saw he was definitely standing there too much, so I caught him on the near post, he got a hand on it, but it went in,” said Barrera.
The Silverbacks owned much of the possession in the early portion of the 1st half, content to move the ball east to west and utilize a more measured attack. However, it yielded only a couple decent looks at net, notably a well fed ball from Pablo Cruz in the 34th minute when he found Brad Stisser inside the 18 on the right post. A poorly placed shot was controlled by Xelaju goalkeeper Minor Jesus Alvarez.
The Silverbacks defense was a little shaky especially after a laissez faire drop attempt from Atlanta’s defensive captain, Martyn Lancaster, to Goalkeeper Joe Nasco, provoked a tense moment early for the Silverback faithful.
Nasco was busy in the 1st half, making 6 saves on 11 Xelaju shots, including an incredible diving save on a header from Edgar David Chinchilla off a Xelaju corner kick. That and a couple others preserved Atlanta’s 1-0 halftime lead.
The 2nd half opened similarly to the 1st with Atlanta garnering much of the possession including their finest attack of the night which resulted in the 2nd of Barrera’s two goals. Head referee, Mark Kadlecick, waved off a penalty just outside the Atlanta defensive box, giving the Silverbacks the advantage. Milton Blanco lifted a 50 yard switch pass to Borfor Carr who was streaking, wide open, down the right flank. Carr took a few touches into the box before laying off a 45 degree pass to Barerra who buried a low, pass-like shot into the far post in the 53rd minute.
“Not the best finish,” said Barrera, “but the keeper wasn’t set so it was a quick shot.”
Having contributed enough in this friendly, Barrera’s night was over 10 minutes later as Head Coach Brian Haney had seen enough from his 23 year old striker.
“I’m happy for him, but I’m scared because when he’s playing as well as he does, the next thing that’s going to happen is an MLS team is going to get him.”
Xelaju did manage to tally twice in the 2nd half within 8 minutes of each other. Xelaju’s Israel Silva was awarded a free kick just outside the 18 yard box. Eric Ati, who started the 2nd half in goal for Atlanta, got a hand on the shot but the a rebound to Julio Estacuy sealed an easy put-back that cut the Silverbacks lead to 2-1.
The Silverbacks would answer just moments later as Pablo Cruz, via some nifty ball handling, navigated his way into the box, and found Alex Ceceres on the back post for an open netter, giving Atlanta a 3-1 lead with 21 minutes left in regulation.
In the 76th minute, fullback Shane Morony, on for Willy Hunt, fouled Kevin Arriola in the box. Minutes later, Silva, made it 3-2 on the penalty kick.
All in all, a complete effort from Atlanta and a favorable 3-2 result. The game got slightly hostile towards the back portion of the 2nd half and a largely Guatemalan crowd made it a nice test for the Silverbacks who will travel to Minnesota next week for their NASL fall opener.
Alec Campbell, Sports Radio 92.9 The Game
Find Alec on Twitter @AlecCampbell5