[NASL SOCCER BOWL 2013] The Atlanta Silverbacks will host the NASL Soccer Bowl 2013 Saturday when they play the New York Cosmos for the title in the first year that league play has been divided into split seasons. The story of the Cosmos is well known, but Atlanta pro soccer has a rich history, too, and the Silverbacks have been one of the NASL's success stories. For six things to know about Silverbacks.
FIRST-HALF CHAMPS.Atlanta, which finished next to last in 2012, won the right to host Soccer Bowl 2013 as the NASL spring champion. The Silverbacks won on July 4, the final day of the season, when they beat Minnesota United FC, 3-0, to overtake the Carolina RailHawks, who fell at the San Antonio Scorpions, 2-0. Carolina could have clinched with a win over Atlanta the previous weekend but had to settle for a 1-1 tie.
WYNALDA CONNECTION.After floundering for the first part of the 2012 season, the Silverbacks appointed Eric Wynaldaas interim coach, and the U.S. international-turned-TV-commentator rebuilt the Silverbacks with an infusion of talent from his Cal FC that made a historic run to the fourth round of the 2012 U.S. Open Cup. It began with the signing of three players, Danny Barrera, Pablo Cruzand Mike Randolph. Other Cal FC players still on the team now coached by Brian Haynes are Pedro Mendes, Beto Navarro and Salvadoran international Richie Menjivar.
MENDES TWINS.Mendes and twin brotherPaulo arrived together from Cal FC after playing together at Foothill College, a long-time JC power in the San Francisco Bay Area and with the Rhode Island Reds in the NPSL. Pedro is tied with Ruben Luna (formerly of FC Dallas ) as the Silverbacks' leading scorer with eight goals. Paulo moved on to the Cosmos. After not even suiting up for the first seven Cosmos games, Paulo has since contributed two key goals in seven appearances.
REMEMBERING 1968.Atlanta was the champion of the inaugural NASL season in 1968. The Chiefs' player-coach was the late Phil Woosnam, who went on to be the NASL commissioner. Following the 1968 season, the NASL was left with only five teams, and Woosnam and Clive Toye operated the league from an office in the visitors' locker room of the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, making Atlanta very much the birthplace of modern pro soccer in the United States. Players on the 1968 Chiefs included Ron Newman (legendary NASL, MSL and MLS coach), Kaizer Motaung (who founded South Africa's Kaizer Chiefs), the late Vic Crowe (Aston Villa and Portland Timbers coach), Nick Papadakis (current USL director of commercial services) and Freddie Mwila (Zambia and Botswana national team coach). Not a single player on the Chiefs was an American.
SECOND-HALF SLUMP.The only problem with being the spring champion and clinching a berth in Soccer Bowl is what to do in the second half of the season. Winning the second-half title as well doesn't negate the necessity for the championship game. (The opponent would be the team with the overall best record over the two half seasons.) The Silverbacks finished in seventh place in the fall season, 15 points behind the Cosmos. They enter Soccer Bowl 2013 on a three-game losing streak during which they've been outscored 11-2.
STADIUM OF THEIR OWN.MLS is aiming to place an expansion team in Atlanta. The plan is for the team to be operated by Arthur Blank, owner of the NFL Atlanta Falcons, and play at the new stadium Blank plans to build in Atlanta. But there is already a soccer stadium in Atlanta: Atlanta Silverbacks Park, a 5,000-seat stadium the Silverbacks built in phases and will be the venue for Saturday's championship game.