The Atlanta Silverbacks hope that a full preseason, natural growth and some veteran signings will help the team improve upon last season’s forgettable results.
The Silverbacks announced their return last year and had just a few weeks to compile a roster. Players would sign and join in a piecemeal fashion. As a result, the team was loaded with rookies who didn’t get a full preseason to improve their conditioning and chemistry.
Last season the team started nine first-year players in its season opener and was the youngest in the league, but won just four games, with 20 losses and four ties.
This season’s team has nine new signings, seven of whom have several years of experience as professionals, and most have had six weeks to get into shape and learn each other’s games.
Their season will open at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against San Antonio at Silverbacks Park.
“This should be a team with more understanding of the game, more mature and more responsibility,” coach Alex Pineda Chacón said. “It’s a team with a winning mentality.”
The veteran signings include a goalkeeper, central defenders, midfielders and several forwards, strengthening the team up the all-important middle of the field. Chacon said he is trying to decide between a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation. The decision will depend upon the conditioning of the strikers. Chacon said he wants the team to keep possession and build attacks. If they lose possession, he wants them to press to regain the ball.
He hopes the experience the team has added will improve the tactics and awareness. For example, when the team is attacking, he wants the defenders to move high up the field, to support the strikers and close the space that could enable counter-attacks.
One of the players the team brought in, or back, to help improve that strategy was defender Martyn Lancaster. The England native played for the Silverbacks in 2007 and ’08. After spending the past two years with Fort Lauderdale, he should add experience (more than 10 years as professional) and size (he is 6-foot-1) to the back line. He will replace Tyler Ruthven, who was signed by the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in the offseason.
Lancaster said he likes what he has seen from the team in exhibition games against Charleston and U.S. Olympic team.
“We held our own,” he said. “We’ve strengthened the team in every position. With the younger guys around it’s going to make for a good mix and exciting team.”
One of the returning players is midfielder Ciaran O’Brien, the second-leading scorer (four goals) on last year’s team. However, O’Brien said he feels like a new player. Last season was his first after having two surgeries on his left hip in 2009 and ’10. He said he now feels like he is back to 100 percent.
O’Brien, who played for the Colorado Rapids before his injuries, said he had never been on a team quite like last season’s Silverbacks.
“I’d never experienced that type of discouragement,” he said. “It was long, it was rough, but it was a learning experience. We can take a positive out of it. We learned a different side of the game. Makes you want to work harder. Overall it was tough. We will come back from that.”