Silverbacks set to return to pitch in 2015

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Silverbacks set to return to pitch in 2015

Bailey Kish

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The first week of December was a tumultuous one for professional soccer in Atlanta. The Atlanta Silverbacks announced not only that they would stay in Atlanta and play for the remainder of the 2014 season as well as the 2015 season, but also that their technical director Eric Wynalda would not return in the 2015 season. Both announcements surprised many soccer fans, who generally believed that in the coming years, the Silverbacks would either dissolve or move to another city that lacked a soccer team.

The Silverbacks formed in 1998, following years of poor performance and legal issues with Atlanta’s previous professional team, A-League Atlanta. They competed in the United Soccer League until 2007, going on hiatus until 2009, when they re-emerged as founding members of the new North American Soccer League, playing their first season in the league when the NASL was certified by the US soccer federation in 2011. Since 2011, the Silverbacks have generally ended their seasons with a middle-of-the-pack performance, with the exception of the spring 2013 season when they won the regular-season NASL championship. This fall, they performed very well in the U.S. Open Cup, a tournament in which all levels of American soccer teams compete. Over the course of the tournament, they defeated two Major League Soccer teams, which play in  a division above them, before being eliminated in the quarterfinals. Despite these successes, the Silverbacks have struggled with low interest for years, coupled with the costs of maintaining a 5,000-seat stadium and 20 acres of land, leaving the ownership in a dire financial situation.

This issue came to a head last week when the NASL announced that they would take ownership of the team through the 2015 season. According to the Silverbacks website, the NASL will operate the team for 2015, while looking for buyers to take the team off their hands, and it is currently unclear if any plan exists for the club if no investors can be found by the end of the 2015 season. This uncertainty, coupled with the news that Wynalda would not return for the 2015 season, leaves Atlanta professional soccer in a difficult position.

Wynalda has been with the Silverbacks since 2012 when he became head coach in July. He served as head coach until June of this year, when he stepped down to a technical director position to focus on his responsibilities to Fox Sports, where he works as a TV analyst. According to NBC Sports, Wynalda adopted a extremely busy commuting schedule from his Los Angeles, where he lives with his family, as well as where the Fox Sports studios are located. He stepped down in June, citing the tough travel requirements, as well as increased demand from his Fox sports position.

The announcement that the Silverbacks planned to stay came eight months after Major League Soccer, the U.S. division one soccer league, released plans to form a MLS franchise in Atlanta. The MLS has announced that the team will play their first season in 2017, and will share the new Falcons stadium. While it’s not clear if any sort of long-term plan exists, the Silverbacks plan to coexist with the MLS team, becoming only the second team in the NASL to do so, along with the New York Cosmos, who share their city with MLS team the New York Red Bulls.

For now, the Silverbacks will remain in Atlanta for the foreseeable future, though they won’t be here for long unless there’s a drastic change in attendance, performance, or support for the team.

 

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