On Tuesday, Asheville City prepared for their first-ever NPSL playoff match at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta. The Blues provided a travel bus for fans willing to make the trip down south. Blue wigs and Beer City flags quickly claimed seats in the Greyhound, which was captained by a South Slope Blues member aptly named “Blue Beard.” At the stadium, heat and humidity poured onto the field as temperatures reached the 90s. Due to the heat, the referee staff did allow for water breaks for both teams midway through each half. After warm-ups and the national anthem had concluded, Asheville City was ready for their inaugural introduction into the NPSL Playoffs powered by Mitre.
Throughout the game, two things remained constant: the battle for procession of the ball and the spirit of the Blues supporting section. In the first 20 minutes of the match, both teams had multiple close shots on goal and looked determined to pull out the victory. Halfway through the first half, tensions and physical play boiled over. After a hard foul, an Atlanta player received a yellow card and from that moment on, physical play escalated immensely. Asheville City upped its intensity and pressed forward.
“Definitely got physical towards the end of the first half,” said Asheville City midfielder Mitch Botfield. “There were a lot of bookings going around.”
The half concluded with a handful of brilliant saves by Asheville’s starting keeper Parker Siegfried.
The second half presented a lot of offensive struggle for the City. Atlanta remained on the ball causing Asheville to draw back and play conservative defensive. For Asheville, defensive back Tom Seery proved to be a highlight reel for the Blues in the second half. Stopping momentum and executing beautifully timed tackles; Seery provided Siegfried much-needed relief on a multitude of occasions. Asheville looked strong until the 67th minute of the match, when the Silverbacks brought pressure resulting in a corner kick. From the corner, Atlanta played the ball to their star striker, who finished the shot into the net. The Blues were down 1-0.
As the game progressed, the City worked to create opportunities on the ball but to no avail. Coach Hamel utilized a number of substitutions late in the game to keep fresh legs on the field. Siegfried continued to make save after save to keep the Blues hopes for an equalizer alive. Unfortunately for Asheville City, the game-tying goal never came. Their inaugural run had come to an end. With a final score of 1-0, the Atlanta Silverbacks took the first round of the Southeast Conference playoffs.
For Head Coach Gary Hamel, working for the Blues has been a bit of a whirlwind the past six months.
“From sitting down with the ownership group and formulating a roster of a great group of guys to a 45-minute practice before our first game, it’s been pretty crazy but its been pretty special. Thanks to everyone who has given their support, especially those at the home games.”
Co-Owner Josh Yoakum added to this sentiment when he said, “Obviously, we are upset with the loss. However, our thoughts are now on Chattanooga and the Blue Ridge Derby. It has been an incredible year with incredible fans and our ceiling is limitless.”