Recently my family moved to Atlanta to start the next chapter in our lives. As part of settling in I started researching the history of soccer in Atlanta, expecting to focus on the Silverbacks and the new MLS team which starts play in 2017. To my surprise I learned that soccer has been in city since the 1960’s and is full of interesting stories and characters. So here we go . . .
The 1990’s saw a combination of indoor and outdoor teams in the Atlanta area. It appears that there was an indoor/outdoor team in SISL, which was a league that started in 1986 as the Southwest Indoor Soccer League, then became the Southwest Independent Soccer League in 1989 and was renamed the Sunbelt Independent Soccer League in 1990. Hope you got all that because there will be a quiz at the end. The Atlanta Express started in 1990 but became the Gwinnett County Steamers. At the same time another club played as the Georgia Steamers, which became the Atlanta Quicksilver and then the Atlanta Lightning. These two entities had disbanded by 1992.
The Atlanta Magic/Lasers started in 1991 and played in both the indoor and outdoor divisions of the USISL. The USISL or United States Interregional Soccer League was a continuation of the SISL. The league went through several name changes, which I will discuss shortly. As for the team, it found much greater success indoors, finishing first and making the championship game in each of the five years of their existence. Outdoor play was a different proposition and they folded after 2 games in the 1995 season, with the indoor team ending after the 95/96 season.
Originally the Magic were supposed to play in the American Professional Soccer League for the 1995 season but owner Sam Chase created the Atlanta Ruckus and several players moved to this new entity. After a financial injection by South African businessman Johnny Imerman, the Ruckus began play in 1995 and made the American Professional Soccer League or A-League Final against Seattle but lost.
Quick tangent about the APSL. When I first started following the beautiful game in the mid-90’s, I was aware of the A-League, which turned out was a branding term for the American Professional Soccer League (APSL). I didn’t know that at the time, but in researching different Atlanta based teams, I noticed the league name came and went and didn’t match my notions of what I thought it was. Here’s the reason why. The APSL existed from 1990 to 1996, with teams from the United States and Canada. The league never received First Division status but, until the emergence of MLS, the APSL was the US’s top league. Eventually the league re-named itself the A-League in 95 and 96 before becoming part of the United Soccer Leagues, which is what the USISL re-named itself. The name A-League stayed until 2004 when the USL changed it to the USL First Division.
Financial difficulties would plague the Ruckus, with the club being sold in 1996 and then operated by the league in 1998. A new ownership group would take charge and renamed the team the Atlanta Silverbacks for the 1999 season. (The name was in honor of Willie B., a silverback gorilla who was a star attraction at the zoo.) Stability finally arrived but onfield success did not. The Silverbacks only made two playoff appearances (2002 and 2007) between the inaugural season and 2009. At the end of the 2007 campaign, the Silverbacks again lost to the Sounders in the Final. In 2009, the club then went on hiatus as preparations were made for the re-launch of the North American Soccer League.
In reviewing the roster of this entity, here were the notable players that I recognized. John Doyle was a defender on the 1990 World Cup team and had experience in Sweden and Germany before playing with the Ruckus in 1995 while waiting for the MLS to start up. He played five years in the MLS before retiring in 2000.
Doyle’s teammate in 1995 was Bruce Murray. This was a name I had heard of but didn’t know too much about. Turns out he played all three games at the 1990 World Cup and was the US Men’s National Team leading scorer when he retired in 1995, playing one season with the Ruckus.
While the Silverbacks were on hiatus, several minor league soccer entities occupied the Atlanta Soccer space.
Atlanta FC joined the NPSL for the 2008 season, playing in the Southeast Conference. They won the Conference title in their inaugural campaign but lost to the St. Paul Twin Stars in the Divisional Round. The NPSL was a much different league in 2008, with only 25 teams in six single table conferences without the national scope that the league has today. Compare that to the 2014 season, in which the NPSL had over 70 teams playing in four regions with at least three divisions each.
The club was not able to match that success in the following seasons, failing to make the postseason for the next four campaigns. On the plus side, Atlanta FC did make the first round proper of the US Open Cup in 2009 but lost to the Charleston Battery. The team was renamed the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves for the 2011 season, which provided a link to the recently formed NASL team.
After a year on hiatus during the 2013 season, the club returned to the NPSL and made the playoffs in 2014. The Silverbacks Reserves tied eventual league runner up Chattanooga FC for the division title but fell in the opening round of the playoffs to the New Orleans Jesters. Over the years, the team has provided Ramiro Canovas, Luis Sandoval, Janny Rivera, Ryan Roushandel, Rury Alvarez, and Eric Ati to the first team.
The Atlanta Blackhawks joined the USL-PDL, a part of the fourth division of the US Soccer Pyramid, in 2009. Notably, Sean Johnson, currently at the Chicago Fire, played on the team in the first season. Unfortunately the team folded after two seasons but had the best looking logo of the teams I came upon in my research. The club was owned by Massoud Roushandel, who I found out is one of the most successful youth coaches in Georgia soccer. In a blurb upon his hire at the USL Front Office, these impressive achievements were noted:
“two National Champions, five Region III Championships and 13 State Championships in Georgia. Roushandel has helped to place dozens of players on NCAA Division I soccer teams, US Youth National Teams and in Major League Soccer. “
The Georgia Revolution joined the NPSL in 2011 and created a local rival for the Silverbacks Reserves. The team was the result of the efforts of the Rockdale Youth Soccer Association and play their matches in Conyers, Georgia, which is about 25 miles east of downtown Atlanta. The club has had moderate success in their first three seasons, winning a division title in 2012, along with a couple of second place finishes. Their 2012 playoff run ended in the first round, where they lost to Chattanooga FC, who would go on to the NPSL Final. Georgia Revolution also qualified for two US Open Cup 1st Round Propers in 2012 and 2013 but lost to the Atlanta Silverbacks both times. The team had a forgettable 2014 campaign in an expanded South Region, only winning one match.
The next post will look at the NASL Silverbacks.
These posts are based on internet research so may be incorrect or incomplete. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or corrections.