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Save us Obi-Wynalda, you’re our only hope!

Eric Wynalda is coming to Atlanta. Yes, THAT Eric Wynalda.

It’s almost fitting in a way. We’ve been teased for so long, told over and over again that “we’re going in the right direction,” or “we’re committed to winning.”

But the Silverbacks’ grotesque record over the last season and a half has made soccer purists here in Atlanta wince, vomit and finally turn their backs on them.

After alienating casual and moderately interested soccer fans in the Atlanta community, even season-ticket holders were walking away from this team, one of the worst in the history of 2nd-tier soccer in the United States.

When the team was reborn in late 2010 with the promise of learning from past mistakes, it came as a surprise to many (this writer not included) when the old guard of Boris Jerkunica, Michael Oki, Rodrigo Rios and Alex Pineda Chacon were left in charge of reinvigorating a dead franchise. They said all the right things, talked about finding young, local talent to develop and promised to listen to the fans. They even brought in Jose Manuel Abundis to coach the team, at the behest of many in the local Latino community.

What followed was one of the biggest farces laid upon this community, an abhorrent 4-4-20 record, with a -38 goal differential. In addition, instead of finding and developing that local talent, the signings of multiple former MLS players was another broken promise, despite a wealth of young, hungry players playing right in their own stadium with the Reserves team of the NPSL.

Fast forward to 2012. New coach. New uniforms. New marquee players. Same result. 8 points from 14 matches. You’d think that a team would have to TRY to be this bad, and at times I really thing that’s what they are doing.

Selling the hosting rights to the U.S. Open Cup match against the Seattle Sounders was the first domino. The dissent was already becoming apparent in the front office and on the field.

Michael Oki, Jerkunica’s right-hand man for many years, finally had enough and resigned. But the losing continued.

Many will point to the ridiculous amount of cards as a sign of indiscipline, but when you break it down, a lot of it is due to frustration. When you take players like Reinaldo Navia and Danilo Turcios, players who have played at the highest level in their careers, and continue to lose week after week, well it’s apparent how frustrated they are.

Pineda Chacon had to go. With that much talent on the field and for these results to continue, it is quite mind-blowing.

Furthermore, the fact that not one, but TWO players from the Reserves were signed in the last few weeks is quite the indictment on Rodrigo Rios and his ability to find talent. Willis and Klute joining the first team in the middle of the season without releasing any players makes it pretty apparent who has the real eye for talent in Atlanta.

Finally, following Saturday’s laughable 3-0 loss to the expansion San Antonio Scorpions, the pieces fell into place and something could be done.

Am I expecting miracles and a quick turnaround from Wynalda? No. Could he steer this team towards the playoffs? Absolutely. The Silverbacks are only 9 points out of the final playoff spot with 14 games left to play.

But take today’s announcement for what it is: An embarrassing indictment of the failures of this organization to put the right people in charge, to make the right decisions, and most importantly, put a good product on the field for the fans.

I’m not comfortable reading Wynalda’s title of “Interim Head Coach” followed by the words “will handle all team-related decisions effective immediately, and that will include finding a permanent head coach for the club.”

The Atlanta Silverbacks have painted themselves into the proverbial corner and are now throwing their hands up asking for help. I just hope and pray that for the sake of soccer here in Atlanta that Mr. Wynalda can avoid all of the nonsense and politics that seem to be rife with this organization.

History has told me to feel otherwise, but as of this morning, I am hopeful once again. Cautiously hopeful, if you would say.

Silverbacks Tie RailHawks in 8 Goal Thriller

The Atlanta Silverbacks went on the road for the first time this season to face the 2011 regular season champion Carolina RailHawks. The Silverbacks still are without Canadian forward Stephen Ademolu who hasn’t made it to Atlanta yet. Other players that would be out due to injury included Forward Matt Horth (knee), Attacking Midfielder Danilo Turcios (hamstring), and Central Defender Rilla (knee).  It would be a good test of depth early in the season for the new look Silverbacks.

After the RailHawks scored the first goal of the night in the 2nd minute this game would also test the Silverbacks resilience.  Especially when the RailHawks scored their  second off a lazy backpass from Martin Lancaster. Goalkeeper Daniel Illyes was already off his line but he couldn’t get to the ball before Nick Zimmerman played it passed Illyes and slotted the shot into an empty net.

The Silverbacks pushed the tempo and it only took 5 minutes  to even the score up at 2 – 2 and enter the half with some momentum. Both goals came on similar plays in which they moved it up the field passed it in at the top of the box from the right side and Reinaldo Navia and Raphael Cox each with clinical finishes.

The Silverbacks took their first lead of the game in the 68th minute when Willie Hunt scored off a header following a corner kick. That lead didn’t last long as Zimmerman scored his second goal 6 minutes later. To make matters worse Willie Hunt received his second yellow of the game and was ejected.

Nobody would have blamed the Silverbacks for putting everyone behind the ball the looking to make it out with a point. However, despite being down a man the Silverbacks scored one more when Navia tallied his second of the night in the 80th minute to take the 4-3 lead.

Unfortunately, like last year in the final minutes of the game the Silverbacks couldn’t do enough to hold on to the points.  In the last minute of regulation RailHawks Forward Brian Shriver scored the final goal of the game to ensure his team a point.  Just moments later there was a shoving match between Silverbacks Nico Colaluca and RailHawks Brian Ackley that excited both benches but cooler heads prevailed and things settled down quickly but that Referee wasn’t having any of it. After red carding both players the Ref decided not to play out the remainder of the stoppage time as he picked up the ball and walked off the pitch.

All around it was a highly entertaining match. Both teams played well and it was good to see the character of the team throughout the match as they answered every challenge presented to them.  The biggest concern may be with the red cards given to Hunt and Colaluca. Hopefully some players can return from injury and help boaster the teams depth this week.

Next up is a home match for the Silverbacks against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday, April 21st at 7:30.

UPDATE: video highlights

Silverbacks home opener ends scoreless

In the Silverbacks home opener they played to a scoreless draw against the expansion San Antonio Scorpions. The game was a sell out (5,000 tickets sold) and fans came out to the first home game despite it being Easter weekend and many counties being on spring break.  The fans that showed up got to see the new look Silverbacks that included 5 starters that weren’t on the team last year.

The Silverbacks had the majority of the possession but it wasn’t enough against a San Antonio team that was happy to sit back and defend with hopes of scoring on a counter attack.  The makeshift forward pairing of Nico Colaluca and David Santamaria isn’t one you’ll likely see as the season moves on.  Chilean forward Reinaldo Navia just arrived in Atlanta on Friday morning but was on the bench and played the final 15 minutes of the match coming on for Santamaria.  The other big forward signing of Stephen Ademolu still hasn’t arrived yet but should be in Atlanta within the next week or so. The Silverbacks leading scorer from last year, Matt Horth, is still recovering from an injury and didn’t dress for the game.  It’s early in the season but there shouldn’t be any concerns about the offense from this one game.

There were many  opportunities for both sides to get on the board and each keeper came up with a few big saves to help preserve the clean sheets.  The majority of the Silverbacks chances came from crosses in from the side and lobs over the top. Unfortunately most were met by empty space or San Antonio’s defense.  The service definitely needs to be better regardless of who comes in as forward.

One winner on the night was Special Olympics Georgia. The Atlanta Silverbacks committed to donating $1 for every ticket purchased for the night’s game.  It’s good to  see clubs like the Silverbacks give back to the community. The San Antonio Scorpions were created for the purpose of not just giving back, but giving all. All net profits generated from the San Antonio Scorpions will go to Morgan’s Wonderland, a park created for the recreation and enjoyment to individuals with special needs.  The park was created back in 2007 by Gordon Hartman, who also leads the ownership group of the San Antonio Scorpions.

Did you get out to see the game? If so, what did you think?


Countdown to Opening Kick: Roster & Coaches

In 2011 the Silverbacks were rushed to put together a team and they struggled all year long. They finished in last place in the NASL with a record of 4-20-4. With that type of performance it was no surprise that the Silverbacks relieved Jose Manuel Abundis of his head coaching duties, replacing him with last season’s assistant, Ales Pineda Chacon.

Chacon has been with the Silverbacks organization dating back to 2004 as a player and then as an an assistant coach for the 2007 season before the team went on hiatus for two years.

In addition to Chacon there are a handful of returning players. Last years team captain and midfielder Lucas Pauldini will return along with Forward Matt Horth and midfielders Ciaran O’Brien and Raphael Cox. Defenders Willie Hunt, Shane Moroney, Partick Robertson and Kohei Matsushita are also returning. Fernando Gonzalez will also return after suffering a season-ending foot injury in May of 2011.

Two players returning from previous stints with the club include Defensive midfielder Tony McManus (2005 – 2008) and Martyn Lancaster (2007 – 2008) .  McManus started last season with FC Tampa Bay (now Rowdies) and then after being released signed on with the Carolina Railhawks in August 2011.  Atlanta resident Martyn Lancaster advanced to the championship game last year with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. Both return in hopes of helping boaster Atlanta’s defense.

To add another piece on the defensive side of the field the Silverbacks signed the 6′ 3″ Brazilian center back Rilla.  Hungarian goalkeeper and new addition Daniel Illyes will be thankful that Rilla is there to help anchor the defense.

All of the defense isn’t going to help if the team can’t score. That’s why the team has brought in some veteran players with international experience. Midfielder Danilo Turcios played 85 times for Honduras including twice in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Turcios is expected to be an attacking midfielder and a playmaker who can distribute the ball to the two new international forwards.

The Silverbacks are hoping that in Reinaldo Navia and Stephen Ademolu they have found the offensive spark that team lacked last year and has lacked to a degree this preseason. Unfortunately neither player arrived during the preseason and likely won’t be playing in the first few games of the season.  Add that with the fact that 2011 leading scorer Matt Horth is recovering from an injured and the Silverbacks may struggle to put many points on the board at the start of this season.

Former Canadian national team forward Stephen Ademolu feels like he has something to prove.  After an injury in 2010 prevented him from making the move to MLS he now feels he needs to show he’s back to the level he was when he played in Europe with four different clubs in Sweden, Norway, and Lithuania from 2004-2010.  Ademolu meet with the US Consulate in Toronto last Tuesday (4/3) and should be arriving next week.

Reinaldo Navia, the 33-year-old striker, comes to Atlanta after spending the 2011 season with Ñublense of the Chilean first division.   Prior to his stint with Ñublense, Navia played for some of Latin America’s most prestigious clubs including Mexican giants Club América and Monterrey and Ecuadorian powerhouse LDU Quito. Navia also represented Chile 40 times and scored 10 goals along the way. Navia is scheduled to arrive today if all goes as planned.

So which new addition do you think will have the most impact in 2012? Do you think there is enough talent to get the team to the playoffs this season?