Silverbacks give Atlanta title hopes

The Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League (NASL) can be considered the city’s best chance at a championship this season. With the Braves currently seven games ahead of the Washington Nationals in the National League East Division, that might be hard to believe.

The Silverbacks, however, are in second place overall, a game behind the Carolina Railhawks with an overall record of 4-2-2 (wins-loses-draws) while amassing an impressive 3-1-1 record at home. Unlike most professional soccer teams, the Silverbacks play in a soccer-specific stadium, Atlanta Silverbacks Park, that regularly sells out its 5,000 seats. The team’s exciting play and winning ways have all helped the club become a must-see for the soccer fans of the city. Believe it or not there are plenty of them here. According to Georgia Soccer, the games state recognized governing body, over 80,000 people (children and adults, respectively represented) play soccer in Georgia.

The Silverbacks’ coaching staff, in particular head coach Brian Haynes, believe in an aggressive attacking style that has produced the second most goals in league play (14) as well as the most shots taken (117) and shots on goal (47) after eight games played. There a clear method to his madness.

“That comes from the fact that we play an offensively aggressive brand of soccer,” said Haynes. “We want to play the type of game that fans want to come back to see.” He continued, “Winning is the ultimate goal, if it happens as a result of our style of play, all the more better.”

Haynes comes from a soccer background having played organized soccer from the age of five on. Born and raised on the island of Trinidad and Tobago, he migrated to the states to follow his boyhood dream of playing professional soccer and obtaining a college degree. First at Erskine College in South Carolina where he was a three time All-American, then for the Atlanta Attack of the Indoor Soccer League then in 1996 with Major League Soccer’s (MLS) FC Dallas franchise. Haynes played for FC Dallas for five years before working as an assistant coach for five more before moving on to the Houston Dynamo to take over their youth wing.

The coaching bug bit him again in 2012, with a little push from his buddy and former national team star, Silverbacks interim coach and current Fox Soccer Channel analyst Eric Wynalda, he took over the ‘Backs on a full-time basis. “My job as head coach is to develop players and move them on to the next level,” he said in a recent interview with Score Atlanta.

Major League Soccer being this country’s soccer equivalent to the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, respectively, so that is usually the goal of most players he encounters in the NASL. Haynes believes the dreamers, like he once was as a young player, are much easier to deal with, “The desire to make it [to the MLs or overseas] is much more fun to coach.” Adding to the solid results thus far this season has been the play of Danny Barrera and Ruben Luna, respectively.The two young forwards (only one player currently on the roster is over the age of 30) are some of the players the club is working to move on to brighter pastures. Barrera is third in the league in assist while Luna is tied for second with four goals.

1968 is not universally considered a banner year in Atlanta Sports history by any measure. The Falcons, in their third year of existence, finished the season 2-12. The Hawks were in their inaugural season having moved here from St. Louis, went a respectable 48-34 before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The Braves accumulated a win-loss record of 81-81 that year, 16 games out of first place.

The city was home to a champion, however, as the Atlanta Chiefs of the NASL won the championship, the city’s only title until the Braves beat Cleveland in 1995. Soccer has some history in this town, has a solid representative in the Silverbacks and deserves more recognition. They might be our only championship hope.

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