Team expects largest crowd in franchise history at Atlanta Silverbacks Park

Atlanta, Ga. (November 7, 2013) - The day the Atlanta Silverbacks have been waiting for has finally arrived. The Silverbacks, Georgia’s only professional soccer team, will host the New York Cosmos in NASL Soccer Bowl 2013, the league’s championship game, this Saturday at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.

Because of the nature of the NASL’s split-season competition format, the Silverbacks, the league’s Spring Season Champions, have known that they will be hosting this game since the evening of July 4. The team has spent the better part of the last four months looking ahead to the game, while at the same time trying to stay focused on NASL Fall Season play.

The Soccer Bowl has finally arrived, and the Silverbacks couldn’t be happier. Coming into the game, the Silverbacks have struggled and look eager to wipe their slate clean. The hosts have lost three straight games, although their most recent loss on November 2 came against the Cosmos in a game that didn’t feature the normal starters from either team.

“It’s been a long wait and an impatient one,” said Silverbacks Brian Haynes. “Now that it’s here, it’s a sigh of relief because we can put everything behind us and focus on this game. I know it’s about getting your team ready for the moment, and we’ve done what we’ve needed to do. Now, it’s our time to stand up, and this where the team has to show itself now.”

Recent losses aside, the Silverbacks view Saturday’s championship game as a tremendous opportunity to cap off a banner year for the organization. Just over a year ago, the Silverbacks finished second to last in the NASL standings – and that was even after a late-season resurgence under the guidance of Haynes.

Fast forward to 2013, and Haynes and his team have silenced the critics and surprised the league, finishing as Spring Season Champions and the hosts of the league’s crown jewel game, NASL Soccer Bowl 2013. To go along with the team’s success on the field, the organization’s front office has been able to attract sellout crowds at eight of their 13 home games this year, leading to a franchise attendance record.

A win over the Cosmos in front of their loyal fans would be the icing on the cake, but the NASL newcomers from New York won’t be easy to overcome. The Cosmos, winners of the NASL Fall Season, have been impressive since joining the league in August. Head Coach Giovanni Savarese’s team compiled a 9-4-1 record, and enters Saturday night on a 11-game unbeaten streak. The team only lost one game - a road defeat against the Carolina RailHawks - and jelled quickly despite not having played a competitive game together until the NASL Fall Season opener.

“We’re excited for this game. Our players and the whole technical staff have been working very hard and deserve this opportunity,” said Savarese. “We’re still approaching it like every other game this year. Every game was a final to us because the league is so tough, now we have one more final left.”

Led by Spanish international and former Villarreal midfielder Marcos Senna, the Cosmos lineup is packed with experienced and talented players. Senna’s compatriot, defender Ayoze, also brings recent experience from the country’s top flight league, La Liga. Add to the mix former MLS players Carlos Mendes, Hunter Freeman, and Kyle Reynish, and you have a more than formidable side. The team combined to score 22 goals and concede only 12 over their 14 fall season games.

While the Silverbacks’ spring-season exploits were far more successful than their run in the fall season, the team features plenty of firepower. Defensively, the Silverbacks had a stretch of 13 games this year in which they conceded only nine goals – the stretch also featured five shutouts. In the attack, the Silverbacks have two prolific forwards, Pedro Mendes and Ruben Luna, who each tallied eight goals apiece in 2013. Midfielder Danny Barrera, who finished second in the league in assists with seven, is a creative player that often dominates the center of the field.

If Saturday’s title game is anything like the first two matchups between these two teams, it should go down to the wire. The Silverbacks and Cosmos played to a 1-1 draw in New York on September 7, with the Cosmos enjoying the fair share of the possession and scoring chances. Last Saturday in Atlanta, the Silverbacks fell to the Cosmos 1-0 – a score that was a bit deceiving considering the home team controlled the game, particularly in the second half.

The game features a number of interesting storylines. Despite only competing in the NASL Fall Season, the Cosmos, a well-known soccer brand with vast resources, were expected by many to clinch a spot in the Soccer Bowl. The Silverbacks came into the season as the exact opposite. In fact, many pundits and media members believed the team was again destined for the NASL cellar. The preseason expectations suggest a “David vs. Goliath” matchup, but surely Haynes and Savarese don’t see it that way.

Another fascinating matchup to watch will be the battle between the Mendes brothers. Pedro (Atlanta) and Paulo (New York) are twin brothers that have never been apart until now. The pair made their professional debuts for the Silverbacks last year after being discovered by the team’s technical director Eric Wynalda, but Paulo has since moved on to the Cosmos, ironically enough.

Saturday’s game is a massive opportunity for both teams to add to their trophy cabinet. The Cosmos look for their sixth overall league title and first since 1982, while the Silverbacks look for their first league title in franchise history. An Atlanta professional soccer team hasn’t won a championship since the Atlanta Chiefs did it in 1968, while an Atlanta sports team in general hasn’t won a title since the Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night, and fans are encouraged to arrive early given the fact that the club expects the largest crowd in Atlanta Silverbacks Park history. Tickets are still available, and fans can purchase them over the phone at 404-969-4900 or online.

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