ATLANTA—The Atlanta Silverbacks earned a hard fought point in the club’s home opener Saturday night at Silverbacks Park versus the Carolina RailHawks. An opening day-record crowd witnessed the 1-1 draw. Substitute Jerson Monteiro scored to pull the Silverbacks level in the 72nd minute in his debut with the club.
“I would always like to have a win at home,” said head coach Jason Smith. “But considering the personnel we’re missing, I think it’s a positive result.”
The Silverbacks fell behind in the 49th minute off a well-taken free kick by Steven Curfmam after a scoreless first half.
Five players made their Silverbacks debut in the Silverbacks makeshift lineup, including Monteiro, who came on for captain Rodrigo Rios in the 69th minute. The Silverbacks were without the services of four regular first-team players due to injury, suspension, and loan commitments.
“I’m happy to score on my debut with the club,” said Montiero. “It’s still early in the season and I’m learning how to play with everyone still.”
The RailHawks began the match on the offensive, nearly getting on the score sheet in just the fourth minute of play. Carolina’s Connally Edozien found space on the left side and hit the ball just wide, beating a frozen Ryan McIntosh. Twenty-two minutes later Jacob Coggins had the RailHawks second chance on the night, heading an in-swinging cross just over McIntosh’s crossbar.
It wasn’t until past the 30 minute mark that the Silverbacks began to develop some continuity in the midfield. David Hayes—who played out of position as a left midfielder—had the Silverbacks first opportunity in the 32nd minute, getting a good look at goal from inside the penalty area. His shot sailed over the crossbar.
Three minutes later Mac Kandji got a step on his marker, getting on the end of a perfectly weighted ball from Rios in the center circle. Kandji beat a second retreating defender with a lovely pull-back move inside the penalty area but hit the resulting shot on goal straight at RailHawks goalkeeper Chris McClellan.
“We started slow tonight. It took until the first half for everyone to settle in,” Smith said. “We have some new players, and guys playing out of position, in a relatively unfamiliar formation, so it’s going to take some time.”
The RailHawks goal resulted in a foul just outside the penalty area. Curfman’s bending right-footed free kick cleared the Silverback wall and dipped under the crossbar past a helpless McIntosh.
The Silverbacks responded to the goal immediately. One minute later Kandji nearly got on the end of a poor clearance off a Silverback set piece missing just wide. Rios tested McClellan five minutes later, driving a ball to the far post off a smartly taken quick free kick that caught the RailHawks sleeping. The Silverbacks would have been level were it not for McClellan’s spectacular diving save to his right.
But by that point in time the momentum of the match had shifted in the Silverbacks favor. Needing to salvage at least a point on the night, Smith turned to the substitutes bench, inserting Monteiro—who joined the club after stints with MLS squads Chicago Fire and D.C. United last season—in a more advanced role. The move proved to be brilliant. Just four minutes into his debut Monteiro got on the end of a ball played from McLaughlin in the midfield and bulldozed past his defender, driving the ball low and to the far post to level the score and earn the Silverbacks a point.
“I got a good ball in and got behind the defense and tried to hit it far post,” Monteiro said. “All I was trying to do was keep it on goal.”
Smith continued to utilize his substitute bench after drawing level, replacing tired defenders with fresh legs in the waning minutes of the match.
“Obviously, we’re not match fit yet,” Smith said. “We still have a ways to go before we’re where we need to be. But overall, I thought we did pretty well.”