Atlanta, GA ( July 7th, 2018 ) – The Atlanta Silverbacks Football Club defeated Emerald Force SC 5-3 Saturday night and clinched the second overall seed in the NPSL Southeast Conference Playoffs that begin this Tuesday. Atlanta will host one of two semifinals Thursday night ahead of the championship match next Saturday.
On an gusty and overcast evening in northeast Atlanta, the Silverbacks had to endure a few maelstroms of their own. Coming off of back to back wins against Inter Nashville FC and the New Orleans Jesters, the chance for a letdown was palpable against the league’s last place squad. That letdown became a reality immediately after kickoff. Ashley Kelynack and Alexander Garuba capitalized on regrettable defensive lapses by Atlanta to give the visitors a 2-0 lead just seven minutes into the contest. It would be a long night for the red and black if they could not correct the lack of energy and communication.
Luckily, they could.
Atlanta spent the remainder of the first half pressuring the Emerald Force backline that came into the match giving up a league-high 2.31 goals per match (30 total). They wilted the first time in the 17th minute when Manuel Moreno serviced a ball in to ‘Keka’ Kamara on a corner kick. The strike by Atlanta’s leading man cut the deficit in half. Just seven minutes later, Saturday’s captain Aaron Walker found an open lane on the right side of the box, pulling a defender’s attention and slipping a pass in front to Abraham Lansana. The defensive midfielder continued his strong offensive form, leveling the match at two just 24 minutes in. As if rallying to tie at the break was not enough, the Silverbacks kept up the pressure and found the go-ahead goal in the 45th minute. Aaron Walker found a seam at the edge of the box, dishing to fellow midfielder Kebba Demba. Demba’s point blank shot on goal was saved by Force goalkeeper Ryan Coulter. The rebound fell to the feet of ‘Keka’ Kamara and he did not miss the second chance. Atlanta took a 3-2 advantage to the locker room.
Similar to the first half, the second half began shakily for Atlanta. A defensive miscommunication led to another golden opportunity to the visitors from Knoxville, and they made the ‘Backs pay for it. A long ball into the box seemed destined to be collected by Atlanta. Center back Austin Rainey and goalkeeper Theo Blachon failed to make a call on the ball, leaving a deflection at the foot of Alexander Garuba. He found the back of the net again to equalize the match at three. Not long after this, Theo Blachon collided with a Force defender and both ended up on the ground. Blachon favored his right knee but continued to play. After roughly ten minutes of play, Coach Neves subbed in goalkeeper Bryce Billington to finish the match.
Atlanta would continue the pressure it built in the first half. A pass in the box was broken up by the hand of a Force defender and gave the Silverbacks a chance to reclaim the lead on a penalty kick. Captain Aaron Walker converted from the spot in the 64th minute. The home side began to control possession and created multiple odd-man opportunities, but failed to capitalize. It was a night where anything could happen and a one-goal advantage would not be enough. Leave it to Atlanta’s superstar to put any doubt to rest. An errant pass by an Emerald Force defender was intercepted by a lurking ‘Keka’ Kamara in the box. He quickly converted the turnover into a goal, earning a hat trick on the night and giving the Silverbacks the crucial three points.
Veteran center back Abdul Bangura was asked about the rocky start, trailing 2-0 just seven minutes in. “I think we were asleep. From the warmup, some of the guys I talked to thought we had already won the game. But we had a wake up call after seven minutes.” He was then asked about the depth of this team, specifically at central defense. “That is the quality of this team. I’m sure Coach will make adjustments tomorrow. I mean…I’m 33 and I’m still going. We have Mo coming in, Tacchi is fresh. That shows the depth of this team.”
Center back Austin Rainey earned another start and showed again why he has been a surprising cog in this well-oiled defensive machine. He attributed the early-match quandary to communication. “We just weren’t talking well enough early on. We didn’t work the way we needed to.” He noted that the offense cannot always bail them out after mistakes like that. “We won’t be able to score five goals every game. We have to get back to training and fix our mistakes.”
Midfielder Aaron Walker wore the captain’s armband Saturday night and epitomized the role: making the unsung plays and scoring a goal from the penalty spot. Justin Hanover asked Walker about the gelling and playmaking of midfielders like himself, Lansana, and Kebba Demba. “It’s been exciting. The last part of the season, the guys have really turned it up in the last part of the season. We know we need to work hard and work together. I think that is something we lacked early in the season. As we grew together, we started working hard for each other.” Justin also recalled a moment where Aaron turned the ball over, only to race back with defenders to prevent any further damage. He asked Walker if that is the mentality this team has come to embrace. “Absolutely. If you make a mistake, just fight to win it back. Put your hand up and say that’s my fault and I’ll do better on the next one.”
“But as long as we keep working hard, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Saturday’s victory combined with Asheville City‘s 2-1 win over the Jesters in New Orleans clinched the second seed in the NPSL Southeast Conference Playoffs. Atlanta will forego the quarterfinal round Tuesday and await their opponent in a semifinal matchup Thursday at Silverbacks Park.
Stay tuned to atlantasilverbacksfc.com and Silverbacks social media for more information on the first playoff match of 2018!