The Atlanta Silverbacks entered the 2015 Spring Season with a new coaching staff, an almost entirely new roster, and under league ownership. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of optimism among a small but loyal following of Silverbacks supporters. New Manager Gary Smith, who had won an MLS Cup with the Colorado Rapids and also managed English side Stevenage, was hired in December and almost immediately began a roster overhaul. Most of the players remaining under contract from the 2014 season were either outright released or traded before the season began. Almost all of the new signings came in February and March and were due to Coach Smith’s extensive contacts in Europe and within MLS. While the roster does have considerable talent, it was obvious it was going to take a few matches to begin playing as a team. With a shortened preseason against a few college sides and one USL team, the team was still in flux.
The season got off to a pretty good start. The club was unbeaten in the first five matches, finishing 1-1 with both Indy and Ottawa, beating the Railhawks at WakeMed Park, and finishing scoreless against both the Cosmos and the Strikers. The club was still within striking distance of the top of the table and optimism had replaced the uncertainty. That was when the wheels came off. The Silverbacks lost four of the next five league matches giving up 10 goals in league play after having given up only three goals in the first five matches. The team that had scored four goals in the first three matches scored just three goals in the remaining seven league games in the Spring Season. The Silverbacks struggled to get shots on goal, having just 25 shots, which was the fewest total in the league. The second lowest total was 39 and that club, Minnesota United, scored more than twice as many goals. When you stop scoring and start giving up goals, the drop to the bottom of the table is inevitable. The Spring Season ended with the Silverbacks on the bottom with only eight points having scored the second fewest goals in the league.
cThe US Open Cup provides a respite from the weekly pressure of league play and also allows the fans to experience matches against clubs from other leagues. Atlanta travelled up I-75 to play Chattanooga FC for the second year in a row. In 2014, the Silverbacks beat Chattanooga 5-0, although it wasn’t quite the whooping the score line suggests. This year, Chattanooga entered the May 27th match 5-0 in NPSL play having scored 17 goals. Therefore, this was going to be a much more daunting trip than last year. The Silverbacks made a few substitutions from the regular starting 11 including giving CJ Cochran the start in goal. After a scoreless first half, Chattanooga opened the scoring late, Atlanta was given a PK in stoppage time, and the match went to extra time where the Silverbacks scored and held on for the 2-1 win. This allowed Atlanta to advance for the second straight year to the Fourth Round and face MLS competition. The club then travelled to Harrison, New Jersey to face the Red Bulls. Having played and lost the previous Saturday in St. Petersburg, Florida, the club faced exhausting travel while the Red Bulls were not only sitting at home, but had the week off before the Tuesday night matchup. The Red Bulls outclassed the Silverbacks in all aspects on the field and won 3-0 to eliminate the Silverbacks.
The club entered the season with low expectations that were raised by a relatively good start. The results of so many other fixtures gave the impression that the club was much better than expected. However, when other NASL sides started settling into the season and playing up to their capabilities, the Silverbacks started dropping points and dropped down the table. The club has really struggled to score, and unless that changes, the club will probably remain at or near the bottom of the table. Gary Smith has always been a defensive minded manager, but the club’s inability to put the ball in the back of the net has really hurt our chances. That has to improve. If you can’t score, you can’t win.