The Atlanta Silverbacks begin postseason play Tuesday against Asheville City SC at Silverbacks Park. Atlanta earned the right to host an NPSL Southeast Conference Quarterfinal by virtue of their second place finish in the East division. The Blues took four of six points from the ‘Backs in the first season of this budding rivalry, but the slate is wiped clean as the NPSL playoffs begin.
ASHEVILLE CITY SC
In a season of firsts for the expansion side, Asheville City finds themselves in their first playoff match Tuesday. The Blues concluded the regular season with a final NPSL match at Memorial Stadium Saturday night. A competitive match quickly fell off the rails as Inter Nashville FC netted two goals in the second half to earn a 3-1 road win. The Blues enter the NPSL Southeast Conference playoffs as the only team with a negative goal differential (-1) and are tied with Knoxville Force for the most goals against amongst playoff teams (21 or 1.75 per match). Unlike they did in the regular season matches, the Silverbacks must exploit the weakness of the Asheville City backline while containing the explosive likes of Elma N’For and Tom Deeley.
After a 1-1 draw in Asheville the week before, these two sides met in Atlanta on June 24th. The Atlanta attack created plenty of pressure early, as a free kick from #10 Taka smacked off the crossbar in the 18th minute. In his home debut, forward Keka helped create the first goal as he attacked to the edge of the 6-yard box before dishing to an open DZ Harmon for the score in the 26th minute. The middle 60 minutes of the match involved a large portion of Silverback possession. Atlanta controlled the tempo of play, but failed to finish any more chances. The great effort from Thomas Hunter in goal was thwarted when Tom Deeley equalized for Asheville in the 84th minute. Still reeling from the score, Atlanta quickly committed a foul in the box to set up a penalty kick for Asheville. Star forward Elma N’For buried the PK for the 2-1 lead and the Blues held on for three points.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Our players to watch over the course of the season have been guys that have been mostly unnoticed until their number was called to fill a role. Keka, DZ Harmon, Santi Loaiza, and others have helped push this veteran team to the postseason with special performances throughout the year.
With the playoffs upon us, it is time for the veterans to take the reigns of a team that can make a run into August. While guys like Mitch Garcia and Abraham Lansana will be crucial for a successful playoff run, our player to watch on Tuesday is Joao Johanning Mora. Joao scored the first goal of the year against Birmingham and lit up the net in Charlotte when he scored a hat trick against FC Carolina United. Since that match on June 3rd, he has only scored once in five matches. Atlanta showed they can control possession and tempo against Asheville in the regular season, but finishing opportunities can lift the ‘Backs to a semifinal matchup with New Orleans. Look for star forward Joao Johanning Mora to shine bright in the biggest match of the season.
For Atlanta – No more table implications. Every match is do-or-die from here on out. With a win, the ‘Backs will advance to the NPSL Southeast Conference Semifinals and face the hosting Jesters in New Orleans. Having blown leads in a pair of 2-1 losses to the Jesters this year, Atlanta must feel they can hang with the league leaders.
For Asheville City – Same story: No more table implications. Every match is do-or-die from here on out. Asheville City’s respectable inaugural season can be bolstered up to impressive with a road playoff win and a trip to the Big Easy.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Chattanooga FC hosts Inter Nashville FC Tuesday evening in the other NPSL Southeast Conference Quarterfinal at Finlay Stadium in Chattanooga. The winner will go on to face Knoxville Force in an all-Tennessee semifinal. By Tuesday night, we will have our final four Southeast Conference teams.
Stay tuned to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Silverbacks information. If you cannot make it to the match Tuesday, tune in to Silverbacks Soccer Live! with Justin Hanover and Jon Nelson. The guys will bring the action on the pitch to your laptop, tablet, and mobile device.
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