The Southeast Conference opened up their 2017 NPSL season on Saturday night with the Birmingham Hammers paying a visit to Silverbacks Park to take on this Atlanta side. The visitors stole a 2-1 victory with the winner coming from a beautiful set piece. It was a typical opening match with misplayed passes, teammates not being on the same page, and tired legs. The Silverbacks dominated possession, but not effective with the ball. Often the home side went direct up to striker Avery Shephard, which was easy to defend for a Hammers side who only had 14 players rostered for the evening. Birmingham took a shock lead in the 19th minute when defender Alex Brown latched onto a loose ball off of a corner kick which squeezed past keeper Ameth Kante.
Urgency finally picked up with Atlanta and they created opportunities with Joao Moura being most effective attacking player who created chances off the dribble and was able to find the target. Moura found the equalizer when he chased down a loose ball after a Hammers’ defender failed to head a pass back to the keeper, the Silverbacks player lifted the ball over the keeper to tie it up at 1-1. It would have been safe for the Hammers to hold down the fort and take a share of the points, but three minutes after Atlanta’s equalizer, Hammers were awarded a set piece around 25 yards away from goal. David Valverde placed his free kick over the wall and into the net to restore their advantage.
The Silverbacks made several changes to unlock the Birmingham back-line, but all efforts failed and Atlanta went down to ten men after their goalscorer Moura received a second yellow and his marching orders. He tried to con the ref by lying on the ground in agony to gain sympathy after he barged into the keeper, the ref wasn’t amused by his efforts and gave the forward his marching orders. The Hammers stayed strong and picked up three points to start the season, Silverbacks have talent but need to play faster and less direct to open up teams.
Atlanta Silverbacks Starting XI
Forward Joao Moura was the most dangerous attacker for the Silverbacks. He showed quick, tricky feet and did a good job getting separation from his defender. Moura has pace but needs to use it more often rather than being infatuated with his step-overs. He is comfortable shooting from range and is accurate. He goes down too easily. A very overconfident player with potential but his attitude needs to be adjusted.
Mitch Garcia is a very reliable and composed player. He has a soft first touch, decent control, and makes correct decisions. Not the fastest player, but is intelligent enough to put his body in between him and the ball. He has decent service with his left foot.
Ebrima Njie plays on the right side of the three back formation. He is a physical player, strong on the challenge, borderline reckless. Ebrima went two footed on a challenge which set-up the game-winning free kick for the Hammers. The defender plays direct and tries to get it up to the forward
Birmingham Hammers Starting XI
I have seen David Valverde play with UAB several times, so I was familiar with him before the match started. He showed good work-rate, got around the ball to try to make a play on it. Made some errant passes to start, but got comfortable as the match progressed. Comfortable on the ball, a little too comfortable as he gets knocked off balance at times.
Right back Gael Mabiala was an interesting player. He got forward with great regularity, good pace running downhill. The Frenchman gave Atlanta’s left side problems with his athleticism. I saw the Francis Marion University player is a midfielder by trade but did not look out of place on the back-line. His positioning could improve, but defended well. Looked tired as the game progressed but solid performance.
Left forward, Michael Connell got forward often. Very deceptive to find space. Not as fluid on the dribble, but he is very effective beating defenders and serving in the cross.
“Off the Wall”
There was a lady who was watching the match as her kid was a ball-boy for the evening, you can tell that she only watches when her “baby” is playing. She was very energetic but had no idea what she was talking about. It was delightful and entertaining. She would yell out “Good job, defender. You headed the ball real good.” No typo, she did say real good. To be fair to her, there were no programs and at least she knew it was a defender. Normally, I would be annoyed by it, but she was having fun in the stands so her yelling was real good to me.