Silverbacks win NASL spring championship

The Silverbacks have now accomplished something that the Falcons, Hawks and Dream have not. Heck, the Atlanta Braves have only done it once: win a championship.


The Silverbacks won the 2013 North American Soccer League spring season championship last night by defeating Minnesota United FC 3-0 in Blaine, Minn. That win coupled with a 2-0 loss a half hour or so later by the Carolina Ralhawks in San Antonio secured the title for Atlanta. Atlanta finished last season in last place overall and now have the right to host the Soccer Bowl championship game this November against the team that wins the Fall Season championship. That season starts in August prior to a month long “offseason” that was well earned by the Silverbacks.


Heading into the match knowing that only a win would suffice, the three points would leave the Silverbacks with a one-point advantage over Carolina for the title, Atlanta’s game plan was to start the match aggressively on both offense and defense. Head coach Brian Haynes and his staff were well prepared for this moment. When asked if they prepared differently for this matchup than for any other he was clear in his answer.


“Yes and no”, said the Trinidad and Tobago native and former pro player. “We had a bit of a different lineup, but the most important thing was that we were going to get after these guys early and not sit back and settle for a draw.”


Minnesota tested Silverbacks goalie Joe Nasco early with a few shots on goal, but failed to score before the Atlanta back line solidified. On offense, the Silverbacks only managed one first-half goal by forward Brad Stisser on a momentum-shifting header off a free kick from midfielder Pablo Cruz that was earned by defender Mike Randolph, but had plenty of chances due to great runs by forwards like Pedro Mendes.


“We came out aggressive, we knew what we had to do”, said Mendes, who failed to score on the evening but was successful in drawing fouls and keeping the pace in Atlanta’s favor on offense.


Stisser would earn a yellow card for excessive celebration following the goal but it would not matter in the grand scheme of things, the goal would be the only one Atlanta needed on the night. It however would not be the only one they would score.


Two more goals in the second half, first by midfielder Bobby Reiss in the 73rd minute to put the ‘Backs up 2-0 followed by a score by the team’s leading goal scorer Ruben Luna, who was a substitute on the evening, in the 83rd minute. The goal was Luna’s fifth on the season, tying him for third overall in the league scoring chart.


The Silverbacks return for the fall season with a home opener against Carolina. The team will formally receive the championship trophy prior to the game. In the meantime, they have a bit of celebrating to do. When informed of the fact that he was the head coach of the only professional championship team in town since 1995 (Atlanta Braves), Haynes was a bit surprised.


“It feels great to be a part of any kind of Atlanta sports history,” said Haynes. “My assistant coach (Franklin McIntosh) and I played together in Atlanta and failed to win a championship, but we were just saying how much better it feels to win one as coaches. It’s like we have come full circle”.


For the 23-year-old Mendes and many of the other young players on the team winning a championship so early into their careers has to be quite an experience.


“It feels great”, said the Brazilian forward. “I’m only in my second year [as a professional] and it feels great. I’m happy, everybody on the team is happy. Since pre-season we all came together, the coaches the players, and did the work necessary to win. We deserve it.”

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