The Atlanta Silverbacks will kick off their third season in the North American Soccer League on Saturday night when they host the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at 7:30 p.m. at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
While the NASL officially opened 2013 play on April 6, the Silverbacks were the first team to receive a bye on the schedule, giving them an extra week to prepare for regular season play. The Strikers kicked off their season at home last Saturday, coming away with a point following a 1-1 draw against FC Edmonton at Lockhart Stadium.
The Silverbacks have had success against the Strikers since joining the NASL, only falling once since May 2011. Head Coach Brian Haynes’ club will be looking for their third straight win against the Strikers on Saturday, taking home the previous two contests by a combined score of 5-2.
The Strikers have brought in some reinforcements since the last meeting, though – none more important than former Puerto Rico Islanders striker David Foley. The Englishman bagged 21 league goals in three seasons with the Islanders, and picked up right where he left off last week, scoring a stunning equalizer that earned his new club a point against FC Edmonton.
Strikers Head Coach Daryl Shore also added MLS veterans Ivan Guerrero, Shavar Thomas, and Stefan Dimitrov, who join an already-impressive group that includes Costa Rica international Andy Herron and last year’s breakout rookie Mark Anderson.
Despite having formidable opponents to deal with on Saturday night, the Silverbacks will feel good about their preseason progress. The club went undefeated in the preseason – a stint that was highlighted by an emphatic 3-0 win over USL Pro side Charlotte Eagles on March 30.
Haynes and his staff managed to retain almost all of the players that helped the Silverbacks post the league’s best record over the final nine games of the 2012 season. Defenders Beto Navarro and Mike Randolph, midfielders Pablo Cruz and Danny Barrera, and forward Pedro Mendes will all look to build on strong showings in 2012, while veterans such as defender Martyn Lancaster and midfielder Borfor Carr will look to continue as the team’s leaders.
Add to the mix former FC Dallas forward Ruben Luna, former Charlotte Eagles standout Mark Bloom, and forward Kellen Gulley, who comes to Atlanta on loan from the Chicago Fire, and you have a pretty intriguing and talented group.
Luna, Mendes, and Gulley will be among those trying to replace the goal-scoring prowess of forward Matt Horth, who departed for the New England Revolution this offseason after tallying 18 goals in two seasons with the Silverbacks.
Saturday night will be a battle between two good friends, as Haynes and Shore have crossed paths as coaches many times over the years. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at Atlanta Silverbacks Park, with gates opening at 6 p.m. to fans.
The first 1,000 fans at the game will receive Silverbacks Schedule Koozies. To purchase tickets, call 404-969-4900 or visit atlantasilverbacksfc.com.
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