May 31st, 2014 (Atlanta, GA)- The Atlanta Silverbacks returned home for the first time in nearly a month, and hoped to help play spoiler against the NASL’s league leading Minnesota United FC who looked to clinch the Spring season title with a win and some help. Unfortunately for the Silverbacks, they couldn’t complete their end of the bargain, falling 2-1 on a night characterized by missed opportunity.
The Silverbacks went 1-2 in league play in their three week run away from Silverbacks Park, earning a win in the final week of that stretch against FC Edmonton on May 24th. They also picked up a win against Chattanooga FC, of the NPSL, in the 4th leg of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup earning an opportunity to host MLS side Real Salt Lake at home on June 14th.
Chances were scarce in the first half with the wind swirling and the threat of rain imminent until the 16th minute when Silverbacks forward Deon McCaulay made a run into the corner and dropped a pass to Junior Burgos. Burgos sent an in swinger towards the far post but was turned away by a diving attempt from Minnesota goalkeeper Mitchell Hildebrandt.
It was a difficult night for McCaulay who was the subject of a trio of other chances in the first half when a shot to the far post missed entirely in the 21st minute. In the 25th, Ghanian midfielder Kwadwo Poku slid a pass to a wide open McCaulay inside the 18 yard box where a one on one opportunity again went in Hildebrandt’s favor. In the 31st, Poku made a long run through the middle of the field, eventually finding McCaulay whose attempt caromed off the crossbar and away.
“I have to be disappointed having so many opportunities and didn’t even capitalize is poor,” said McCaulay.
The Silverbacks were in control of the match even at the start of the second half when Junior Sandoval laid off a pass to Ramiro Canovas whose shot screamed across the goal mouth and onto the foot of McCaulay. The Belizian national’s attempt again just missing over the bar.
In the 52nd minute, Atlanta’s momentum was temporarily squelched as Minnesota seized its best opportunity of the match. Forward Christian Ramirez dribbled deep into Silverbacks territory and sent in a cross that found the head of Midfielder Greg Jordan who finished, virtually unchallenged, to the far post.
Minnesota doubled its lead 21 minutes later on a set piece goal that saw Justin Davis’ service rewarded with a header by Ramirez, making it 2-0 in the 73rd.
Things got interesting in the 85th minute when the Silverbacks cut the lead to 2-1. Alex Harlley, on for Junior Burgos just minutes earlier, received a pass just inside the top left corner of the box. He took a few touches before maneuvering a pass to Poku at the top of the 18. Poku one timed a low blast under the outstretched arms of a diving Hildebrandt for the goal.
Three minutes were added to regulation but they would go unfruitful as the Silverbacks tried to salvage a draw and a much needed point in the standings.
The Silverbacks were the better team, more than doubling Minnesota’s shots on goal and clearly creating the better chances, but they simply couldn’t capitalize. When asked if he was disappointed in his team Head Coach Eric Wynalda was clear.
“Not at my team,” he said “I’m disappointed in the opponent.”
Minnesota is known for its physical and sometimes boorish style of play and that was not lost on Wynalda on this night either.
“The opponent doesn’t play soccer. They don’t even play soccer. That’s like, the ugliest soccer I think I’ve ever seen and that’s the best team in this league, so that’s embarrassing.”
If there was a silver lining it’s that Minnesota was unable to clinch the Spring season title on the Silverbacks field because of wins by New York and San Antonio.
With the loss the Silverbacks move to 3-0-5 on the season and take on expansion side Indy Eleven next week at Silverbacks Park. Kickoff is slated for 7:30pm ET.
Alec Campbell, Sports Radio 92.9 The Game
Follow Alec on Twitter @AlecCampbell5