The Atlanta Silverbacks earned an exciting win Wednesday night at home against the conference-leading New Orleans Jesters. The win lifts Atlanta to 6-2-4 (20 points, 1.67 PPG) and firmly into contention for a first-round bye in the NPSL Southeast Conference playoffs, while the loss drops New Orleans to 7-2-4 (23 points, 1.77 PPG).
A festive Independence Day gave way to a comfortable July evening at Silverbacks Park. The early brief shower led to a field covered in a mix of bright sun and shadows. Early and often, it was the defense of both teams shining the brightest. After a stellar performance on the road in Nashville Saturday night, the same defensive midfield and back line accompanied goalkeeper Theo Blachon on the field against the league leaders. Midfielder Abraham Lansana and Ricardo Oliveira led the charge in the middle third while center backs Austin Rainey and Abdul Bangura disrupted the Jester attack. Conversely, the New Orleans back line went toe to toe with Atlanta’s, clogging up passing lanes for “Keka” Kamara and company.
At the half, the Silverbacks traded out tall forward Thierry Jules and holding midfielder Ricardo Oliveira for veteran attacking midfielder Joao Johanning Mora and forward Nyambi Jabang. This was a clear sign Silverbacks head coach Roberto Neves intended to increase the attack and go for three points in the first of a three-match homestand to finish the regular season. Just when it seemed both teams were content to take a scoreless draw, Lansana took matters into his hands..er..feet. Left back Manuel Moreno serviced a ball into the box in the 88th minute. The ball was cleared out to Lansana roughly 35 yards from goal. The holding midfielder made a decisive dribble to his right before striking on goal. The two-hopper beat Jesters goalkeeper Chad Collins to give Atlanta the 1-0 advantage. The goal seemed to be a bit of an uncorking of the Atlanta offense, which had failed to make the final connection on numerous chances.
To cap it all off, Johanning Mora got back to his scoring ways a minute after Lansana’s goal. Brian Pretel Plata won a ball from New Orleans, outletting to Aaron Walker. Then Walker sent a long ball to Johanning down the right side, where Johanning Mora collected the ball on a hard cut back. His left-footed shot beat Collins on the same side, ensuring a 2-0 Atlanta win. Players, coaches, and staff alike found it hard to maintain their excitement after the final whistle.
Silverbacks owner and general manager Phoday Dolleh knew this match would be difficult, but that this team usually rises to those occasions.
“Great effort by entire time. It has been a tough season, but we come up big in these big matches. A great way to come back against a New Orleans team that is on top of the league. Thanks to the boys for the great effort. The entire team worked very hard and we’re very happy to win this game.”
Abraham Lansana got another long-range goal and was joyous to mention it. He also knew the importance of the team’s play and earning the three points. “Very happy with the goal and appreciated the team effort. We needed that win.”
Even after 88 minutes of missed chances, Lansana mentioned that Coach Neves’ mentality would not allow them to simply lay down. “I knew I needed to take advantage of any chance I had on goal. Coach always say: if you don’t kick, you don’t score goals. So we always keep trying.”
The roller coaster first season under Neves continued an upward trend Wednesday night. When asked about Lansana’s performance, Neves noted that Lansana started his great form before this match. “I was very excited about the last game he [Lansana] played in Nashville. But tonight, they all played amazing.”
Specifically, Neves mentioned the foundation on which success can be built this season. “Keeping the possession, passing the ball, communicating. I don’t care if you lose or win. But if you keep improving yourself and as a team, success will come.”
Kamara played a full 90 minutes after being out of the roster recently. Justin Hanover asked him about being doubled up most of the night by the Jesters’ defense. “It is a part of the game. Having two defenders on me shows that I am a good player. I don’t want to be cocky, but that is the reality of the situation. You have to stay focused and play your game.”
Hanover then asked about getting a goal when it is necessary. Kamara did not hesitate to say that it is what they do best. “That’s what our team is about. The first eleven guys on the field feel good about their chances, but we know we have guys that can come off the bench and make a positive impact like Joao and Nyambi did tonight.”
The win not only clinches Atlanta’s playoff berth, but thrust the Silverbacks into contention for a first-round bye with New Orleans and Chattanooga FC. A crucial final weekend at home against Emerald Force SC and Chattanooga FC will determine Atlanta’s playoff fate.
Contributor: Jordan Coker/Atlanta Silverbacks FC
Photo Credit: Josh McClure/Atlanta Silverbacks FC