Goals by Brian Stisser, Bobby Reiss and Ruben Luna paced the Silverbacks to the shutout win over United FC. Atlanta also received an assist from San Antonio Scorpions FC, whose 2-0 victory on the same evening over the previous first-place team, Carolina RailHawks FC, made the Silverbacks’ finishing season point total of 21 enough for the league title. The RailHawks and Scorpions finished the year with 20 points.
“This was a great job by the coaching staff,” said Silverbacks’ midfielder Lucas Paulini. “Coach Haynes and the staff gave us confidence heading into the Minnesota game.”
The league title culminates the rebuilding effort of the Silverbacks’ organization, which was without a coach or clear direction at this juncture last season. United States soccer legend Eric Wynalda was brought in as the technical advisor for the Silverbacks and promptly hired Brian Haynes to the head coaching position.
“The atmosphere wasn’t good last year and it was hard coming to training,” said goalkeeper and Lawrenceville native Eric Ati, who led the NASL in goals against average (0.63) for the spring season. “Brian (Haynes) and Eric (Wynalda) came in and we started believing in ourselves by enjoying soccer. The camaraderie in the locker room is very good and that helped us win the championship.”
Atlanta’s defensive effort contributed a large role in the championship run as the Silverbacks didn’t concede a goal from the run of play over the final seven league matches.
“I’m excited for the guys because of the commitment of what they’ve done here and proud of the accomplishment,” said Haynes. “We got help from San Antonio but if we didn’t win our final game, it wouldn’t have mattered. This was a testament of how hard the guys worked. Players such as Joe Nasco, Borfor Carr, Luna, Ati, and Paulini are guys who have been here a long time but kept the faith when things weren’t great.”
The run towards the spring season championship has also galvanized the Atlanta soccer community as the Silverbacks had five consecutive home sellouts during the campaign. “This championship is a big thing for the city of Atlanta because it will bring more people to the game with passion,” stated Paulini, who has been a member of the Silverbacks for three seasons.
“We heard the entire season people doubting that a championship was coming here but its been nice to represent for Atlanta and win,” said Ati, who also played for the Silverbacks’ youth reserve team as a young player.
“We have a fun event here with true sellouts and a high demand for tickets,” said Silverbacks’ owner Boris Jerkunica. “Our fan base ranges from single people who come early and tailgate to families who enjoy our entertainment options inside the stadium before the start of the contest.”
Atlanta will now have the opportunity to host the Soccer Bowl, which will pit the Silverbacks against the winning team in the fall season, which will begin on Aug. 3. “The guys are training hard everyday because we want to repeat as champions,” said Paulini.
“We’re getting back to work as usual,” said Haynes. “We’re a target for the rest of the league and it’s a different challenge but I like it because our players will be more focused.”
Atlanta’s next contest will be an international friendly when the Silverbacks will host Club Xelaju MC out of Guatemala for the Reto Cup on July 27. The Silverbacks first home game of the NASL fall season will be on Aug. 10 against Carolina.