Atlanta, GA (October 12th, 2013)- With four games remaining in the North American Soccer League’s Fall schedule, the Atlanta Silverbacks welcomed Minnesota United to their home pitch in search of their fourth win of the season. The match marked the fourth meeting between the two clubs in this calendar year, the Silverbacks leading the series 2-1.
The Silverbacks, having already secured a spot in the NASL Soccer Bowl on November 9th, haven’t experienced as rewarding a season as they hoped. They’ve drawn or lost in 7 of their 10 fall season matches, scored only 9 goals, and had only one multi-goal performance. Furthermore, they’ve hovered near the bottom of the standings for most of the season.
“Here’s the thing, I think we’ve been getting those chances before, they haven’t been going in,” Coach Brian Haynes said of the goal scoring deficiences. “I told the guys goal scoring is not the easiest thing in the world it’s a lot of concentration”
The first half of the match was competetive, although fairly mundane until late. The Silverbacks maintained a small majority of the possession and created a couple decent scoring chances, capitalizing on only one. Atlanta top scorer Ruben Luna zipped an eye-level pass into Midfielder Horace James who headed a shot wide in the 2nd minute. In the 9th minute, Pedro Mendes, Atlanta’s other top scorer, made a run through the midfield, laid off a pass to James, who centered for Luna. Luna’s shot was deflected and cleared.
The game was back and forth for most of the rest of the half until the 39th minute when Alex Caceres maneuvered his way into the box and tried to squeeze a shot in the near post but failed. Minutes later, defender Mike Randolph found himself in offensive territory with the ball. Randolph centered a pass for Luna whose spectacular diving header found the back of the net in the 42nd minute.
“I’m a center forward, I try to score goals all the time inside the box. Mike gave me a great ball down the line and I was able to put my head on it.”
It was the 7th goal of the fall season for the former FC Dallas forward, and the Silverbacks took a 1-0 lead into halftime.
The second half was characterized by more of the same balanced competition. Minnesota controlled the ball slightly more than the Silverbacks but did not put much pressure on the Atlanta defense. Atlanta clearly generated a more appetizing group of chances, capitalizing in the 74th minute on a Danny Barrera header that came off a pass from defender Shane Moroney. Barrera, in his first game back after serving a suspension for a red card, came on as a substitute in the 69th minute and it was only minutes later that he notched is 4th goal of the year giving the Silverbacks a 2-0 lead.
“Danny is a good soccer player,” said Haynes. “His creativity and his simplicity, the way he plays, and the passes and the runs that he makes, are so intelligent that if he does that day in and day out, no one in this league can stop him.”
Atlanta goalkeeper, Joe Nasco, went largely untested for the majority of the evening until he provoked a penalty kick in the 82nd minute.
“The guy beat me to the ball, and I mean in hindsight, of course, I shouldn’t have gone for it” said Nasco “but I had already committed to it, and he luckily got a step in front of me.”
With the ball crawling through the box, Nasco attempted to dive on it, but swiped the legs of Minnesota’s Cristiano Dias awarding United a penalty kick. Simone Bracalello buried the penalty attempt, despite Nasco’s correct guess, and cut the Atlanta lead to 2-1.
Just 7 minutes later, Minnesota’s goalkeeper, Matt Van Oekel, returned the favor fouling Pedro Mendes giving Atlanta a penalty kick. Mendes exacted revenge with a low shot that found the right corner extending the lead to 3-1.
The Silverbacks garnered their highest scoring total of the fall season and improved their record to 4-3-3. Haynes was pleased with the effort all around and doesn’t seem to be too worried about the lack of scoring to this point citing the professionalism of his players and their work ethic.
“We worked on crossing and finishing, we worked on defending set plays.” “It was an all around great performance, just wish it would have been a clean sheet. As a coach I’m always looking for perfection, but I’m proud of the boys effort.”
The team will travel to Fort Lauderdale next weekend and attempt to avenge a 1-0 loss to the Strikers that they suffered in August.
Alec Campbell, Sports Radio 92.9 The Game
Find Alec on Twitter @AlecCampbell5