Silverbacks aren’t done as a soccer franchise

While the Atlanta Silverbacks no longer exist as an NASL franchise, the Atlanta Silverbacks playing in another league is likely.

Boris Jerkunica, who owns the Silverbacks name, said he and partners John Latham and John Hardin are considering starting a men’s team in the United Soccer League or continuing the team that is in National Premier Soccer League. Its roster is currently composed of reserves players on the Silverbacks team (the reserves would be dropped from the NPSL team’s name). There are also ongoing discussions about starting a women’s team in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.

Jerkunica said he and his partners are looking at the USL and NPSL because the league’s operating costs are significantly less expensive than they are in the NASL. He said operating costs for an NPSL team don’t exceed the low $200,000s, while the NASL can run in the millions of dollars. Jerkunica said he didn’t know the operating costs for teams in the USL, other than they are also cheaper than in the NASL.

He said the lower operating costs may allow the partnership group to make changes that may include adding more partners.

“We are looking for a sustainable model where the team pays for itself and doesn’t require the ownership group to continue to put money in,” Jerkunica said.

The USL recently expanded to 31 teams, broken into two conferences: Eastern and Western. Among the closest teams to Atlanta would be Charlotte and Orlando. The USL is considered the third division of American professional soccer. There are partnerships between several MLS teams and several USL teams done to aid in the development of players. Jerkunica said this model would only work if the USL could partner with an MLS team, and if that the USL’s budget and the coaches were paid for by the MLS team. Jerkunica said that option would be difficult to start this year.

The natural partnership for the Silverbacks would seem to be with Atlanta United, but the MLS expansion side announced last week that it has entered into a one-year partnership with Charleston (S.C.) with an extension option. Jerkunica said Atlanta United’s partnership doesn’t affect he and his partners’ choices or decisions. A USL spokesman said the league declines to comment on any expansion franchises.

The NPSL features more than 60 teams broken into conferences within four regions. It is composed of college players and former pro players. The Georgia Revolution, which plays in Conyers, are members of the NPSL. Other regional teams are based in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, New Orleans, Jacksonville and Orlando. The NPSL is considered the fourth division of U.S. professional soccer.

Jerkunica wrote in an email that the Atlanta Silverbacks as an NPSL team would offer the same experience for fans that it offered as an NASL team.

“A significant portion of the fans that come to watch don’t care whether they are watching ‘college’ players or ‘pro’ players as long as the fan experience is the same,” Jerkunica wrote. “In fact, they have come to really affiliate with the Silverbacks and would like to see a sustainable plan going forward.”

Jerkunica was managing partner of the NASL version of the Silverbacks from 2011-15. The league took over the franchise and ran it during 2015 until announcing last week that the team was ceasing operations.

Jerkunica said he didn’t find out that NASL team was folding until an hour before the news release was sent around 9 p.m. Monday. He had mixed feelings.

“It’s like when any relationship ends. The future is fun, but at same time it’s kind of sad,” he said.

WPSL commissioner Jerry Zanelli said he would love to add Atlanta. Zanelli said the Atlanta team could start as soon as this season, which runs from mid-May to Aug. 1. The league is mostly composed of teams of amateur players with pro aspirations, though there are a few teams composed exclusively of professional players.

The WPSL features dozens of teams around the country, including Alabama and Chattanooga. The league has a relationship with the NWSL and USL and MLS have.

“The Silverbacks have a long history of involvement in women’s soccer and would love to have them in our league,” he said. “We are in discussions to make that happen.”