Atlanta, GA (May 3rd, 2014)- The Atlanta Silverbacks climbed back into the NASL table with a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay last weekend. On a cool, cloudless evening at Silverbacks Park the team looked to even its record with a win over expansion club, Ottawa Fury, who sported an identical 1-0-2 record entering the match.
After two straight losses to open the season Technical Director and “head coach,” Eric Wynalda, has shown that he’s not afraid to tinker with the starting lineup and it has been fruitful. Lucas Paulini has seemingly been ousted for Blair Gavin, formerly of the MLS. Also, Ghanian forward Kwadwo Poku has seen his minutes dwindle after a pre-season that showed much promise. Ryan Roushandel has found the starting lineup since getting signed from the Silverbacks reserve team a couple weeks ago and the team has now signed a pair of goalkeepers to compete with backup Eric Ati in the wake of Derby Carillo’s continuing injury issues.
The chance to go 2-2 on the season looked promising after the Silverbacks went up 1-0 on a Deon McCaulay goal in the 44th minute. Jesus Gonzalez guided a long switch pass to Jaime Chavez deep inside the Fury 18. Chavez headed the ball back to McCaulay who was there to usher the ball into the goal with a header of his own.
It wasn’t the only chance for McCaulay who had another attempt off his head go over the crossbar in the 6th minute. In the 33rd, Gavin fed McCauley on the ground just in front of the mouth of the goal but the finishing attempt went just wide. In the 88th minute he corralled a rebound but shot just wide and in stoppage time he got behind the defense for a one on one opportunity with the goalkeeper that was turned away.
“I’ve missed some easy opportunities that I should’ve scored,” said McCaulay. “I’m getting confidence and I’m getting there game by game. At least one goal a game is good in this league for me.”
Despite the 2-2 record, Wynalda is pleased with the number of chances the team has created so far this season.
“It’s scary that we haven’t scored that many goals. I mean, it’s a good and a bad thing, because if we start figuring it out in front of the net, it’s going to be a different story.”
The Silverbacks were able to generate more than a few chances in the opening half, but also got some scares on the defensive end, forcing goalkeeper Eric Ati into a couple of key saves. Nevertheless, the Silverbacks were able to maintain the lead going into halftime.
The Silverbacks doubled their lead just five minutes into the 2nd half when Gavin’s service to Chavez proved fruitful as Chavez was able to head another goal home to make the lead 2-0. It was Gavin’s third assist on the season giving him the league lead in just two games.
“I went around on the overlap, and I saw Jaime at the back post, and he’s great in the air, so I thought “put it up there and see if he can dunk it” and he did, so it was a good goal.”
Gavin came to NASL from the Seattle Sounders and has battled back injuries since he has been with the team but is steadily increasing his playing time, getting starts in the midfield in the last two games. Even with the limited playing time this season, he has been very productive.
“Blair wasn’t all the way there when the season started,” said Wynalda. “We were worried about it.” “We had to adjust because he wasn’t all the way there.”
The Fury did manage to tally in stoppage time when Sinisa Ubiparipovic’s corner kick found the head of Omar Jarun. It was on the ensuing kickoff when McCaulay found himself one on one with Ottawa goalkeeper Devala Gorrick.
This is an Atlanta team that has undergone almost a complete transformation as only eight players from last year were retained. After two wins in a row to even their record the progression seems very tangible, and Wynalda has been aggressive in making it happen.
In addition to the starting lineup, changes and progression in the back line seem to be stabilizing the team. Edgar Espinoza was moved into the middle of the defense and Bobby Reiss, traditionally a center back or holding mid, to the outside. Veteran left back, Mike Randolph seems in better condition, thus more consistent and more confident.
After tonight the Silverbacks move up to 5th in the table and will play their next 3 games on the road at Ft. Lauderdale next week and then Carolina and FC Edmonton in the two weeks following that.
Alec Campbell, Sports Radi0 92.9 The Game
Follow Alec on Twitter @AlecCampbell5