Meet the Atlanta Silverbacks
It’s never easy being the new kids on the block, and all Philadelphia Union fans can relate that. In 2011 the Atlanta Silverbacks entered the North American Soccer League (NASL) as the newest team in the still growing second tier of American professional soccer. While the 2011 season was not the most successful in terms of on field production, this is a franchise built to grow and is laying the foundations for something bigger in its future.
The History of the Atlanta Silverbacks
While 2011 marked the beginning of the NASL version of the Atlanta Silverbacks, it was not the creation of a brand new franchise. The team actually began play in the A-League in 1998 and through the re-branding of the league became a member of the USL. In 2008 the team decided to withdraw from the league. Although it was widely speculated that the franchise was in trouble, it was actually because of a difference in the direction of the league. Holding out for higher league standards in areas such as the league business model and team ownership rule, the Silverbacks would soon make their return to professional soccer, this time with the new NASL.
The Atlanta Silverbacks; More than a Professional Soccer Team
The Atlanta Silverbacks organization is not just limited to the team that represents them in the NASL. Atlanta Silverbacks Park is a multi-million dollar recreational soccer facility that comprises of four full-sized soccer fields, the highlight of which is a 5,000-seater stadium that the NASL Silverbacks call home. Along with these outdoor fields, the Atlanta Silverbacks Suwanee Indoor is an indoor sports facility in northern Atlanta that, combined with the outdoor facility, is the home for hundreds of Atlanta youth team competitions on a weekly basis. The third component of the Atlanta Silverbacks is their professional women’s team, Atlanta Silverbacks Women, which was crowned the USL W-League champions when they beat out the Ottawa Fury Women in Seattle.
The 2011 Atlanta Silverbacks
The best way to describe the 2011 Silverbacks in one word was: young. The league’s youngest team, averaging in age right around 23, the Silverbacks showed some great promise, but lacked the needed experience and leadership to hold on to results in crunch time. Far too often draws turned into loses and wins turned into draws. It is safe to say no one within the Silverbacks organization sees the 4-20-4 record as the quality or standard that should represent the franchise, but it is a start. The core of good young talent that was put together for the first season will be a great building block for the future Silverbacks.
Taking a closer look at the 2011 schedule the team was played in 15 games that were decided by 1 goal or less. Of the possible 45 points from those games, the Silverbacks were only able to claim 13 of them. That is a great place to start for picking up extra points next season. The fact that adding one goal to 10 games would have resulted in added points is great news. Along with that, the team must be ready to play from the first kick. In 2011 it took until the 10th game of the season to collect the first full 3 points. It will also be a priority to avoid long stretches without adding any points. The longest unbeaten streak, a draw flanked by a win on both sides, came after 4 straight loses and followed by 6 straight loses. Not only is this rough on players, it is equally terrible, if not more, for fan morale. Speaking of fans, keep an eye open for a future feature on the two largest Atlanta Silverback supporter groups, Westside 109 and Eastside 309.
With a disappointing season comes many changes. The changes started with a new coach. Former MLS MVP and Silverbacks assistant coach Alex Pineda Chacon will be taking the helm for the first time as a head coach and has begun adding to the squad right away. Happy with the young talent collected in the first NASL season, the biggest need was for players to come in that had experience and leadership that could steady the ship and see the team through the tough times at the end of a close game. The four additions thus far, don’t think for a second they’re done quite yet, have filled that need.
Leaking almost 2.5 goals a game was sure to be a priority for improvement, and the first two signings of the off-season by Chacon proved that. Englishman Martyn Lancaster rejoined the Silverbacks, who he had played for in 2007 and 2008, from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and will be joined in the middle of the back line by Brazilian Rilla. The Brazilian adds a major aerial presence, measuring in at 6-foot-3.
On the other side of the ball, the Silverbacks only managed to average .89 goals a game, equally as disappointing as the goals against. To fix this problem, Chacon brought in two players with international experience for their respective nations. Chilean striker Reinaldo Navia is one with 40 caps for the South American nation and Chacon has stated he hopes can impart some of his experience on the other young strikers. Canadian Stephen Ademolu will also add his international experience to the Silverbacks as he adds pace to the flanks or the middle of the field.
The franchise also looks to build on their already outstanding fan base. The Silverbacks attendance was nearly 3,000 on average last year, a mark that was greater than a majority of the NASL sides. Through community outreach, youth involvement, website improvements and a media outreach to both the domestic and international population of Atlanta, the Silverbacks look to capitalize on a large mass of soccer lovers in the area. Atlanta Silverbacks Park is a facility that was built to be able to grow with this young franchise. Public Relations Manager, Neal Malone, says that it is the focus of the organization to “start making stadium growth a necessity, not just a dream.”
It is safe to say this is an organization with its feet on the ground, but it’s aspirations in the clouds. Those making the decisions have made a conscious effort to make sure the franchise is financially stable, forward thinking, but most importantly fan friendly. It has a great place to call home and a growing fan base that is ready for a professional soccer team to win it over. As the attendance grows and the on-field product increases, so should the attention that Atlanta gets as a viable future home of an MLS franchise.