In our match preview, we talked about how veteran players would have to step up to lift this team to postseason success. Guys like Mitch Garcia, Alex Nyarko Harlley, and Taka had plenty of chances to score, but failed to convert on multiple occasions. Joao Johanning Mora had a few offensive chances that he failed to convert as well, but it was a half volley off of a cleared corner that vaulted Atlanta in front. Unlike all four losses in the regular season, they would not blow this one.
“We kept going and going and going.” captain Mitch Garcia said. “And we finally got one in the back of the net.”
“That was a nice goal. Joao, he’s been struggling lately,” said defender Abdul Bangura after the win. “He showed he’s a big-time player for us and he made it happen today.”
The team had plenty of reasons to admire Joao’s heroics, but he was motivated by far more than advancing in the playoffs and extinguishing Asheville’s inaugural season.
“I’ve been working for that moment. Especially in this [medical] situation with my mom. Last time I talked with her, she told me ‘just go and play for me’.” a subdued Johanning said after the match. “That’s my motivation now. She’s my heart, she’s my everything.”
Joao went on, discussing the team’s effort: “We did great. We work hard. We’re hungry. Now we’re going for another one [Conference title]. We’re hungry for that.”
Finally, he noted the support, given the circumstances: “Even with a game at 3:30, the fans came to support us. This game is for them.”
The Silverbacks showed a resilience they have not shown in nearly a month of play. Similar to all of the regular season losses, Atlanta had a flurry of scoring chances that they failed to finish. Against New Orleans twice and against Asheville just two weeks ago, Atlanta took 1-0 leads only to fall 2-1 down the stretch. The unrelenting pressure after the Joao strike showed a shift in mentality we have not seen from this squad since earlier in the campaign.
“I was so impressed with the team, the attitude. I love how we played,” holding midfielder Abraham Lansana noted. “We played mature and we played smart.”
The backline and goalkeeper Thomas Hunter rose to the occasion defensively. The usual backline of Kemar Brown, Abdul Bangura, and Ebrima Njie again bottled up the Asheville City attack. After being pestered by Blues supporters about the number of fans in the stadium, Hunter even had enough time to mention the scoreboard to the onlookers.
After Tuesday’s victory, the Silverbacks have a three day break before the NPSL Southeast Conference Semifinal against the Jesters in New Orleans. The undefeated top seed will host both semifinals Friday and the Conference Final Saturday. The first semifinal is scheduled for 3:00 PM CT Friday between Knoxville Force and Inter Nashville FC. The second semifinal is scheduled for 7:00 PM CT between the Silverbacks and the Jesters.
Keep up with the Silverbacks social media for updates on match and travel info.