It wasn’t pretty, but the Atlanta Silverbacks grinded out a 1-1 draw against red-hot Minnesota United FC in front of 4,810 fans at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
Forward Jaime Chavez’s late penalty kick in second-half stoppage time earned the Silverbacks a key point against Minnesota United FC, who extended their NASL unbeaten streak to seven games. Chavez’s goal cancelled out an earlier strike from the league’s leading scorer, Christian Ramirez.
The Silverbacks entered Saturday’s clash under new guidance, with head coach Jason Smith taking the helm for the first time this season. Smith, who coached the Silverbacks from 2005-2008, made just one change from the side that beat FC Edmonton last weekend. Midfielder Jesus Gonzalez came into the fold for Pablo Cruz, meaning the Silverbacks fielded a slightly more defensive lineup against the Spring Season Champions.
The first half was more about defending than generating scoring opportunities. Both sides displayed extremely well organized back lines, preventing any real chances from threatening either goal. The Silverbacks had the night’s first look on goal within the first five minutes, with midfielder Kwadwo Poku testing United goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt from 20 yards out.
Just before halftime, Silverbacks midfielder Junior Burgos’ corner kick found the head of defender Ryan Roushandel, but the Atlanta native’s effort bounced just over the net from only a few yards out.
The Silverbacks lost a bit of focus coming out of the locker room after halftime, and they paid for it almost immediately. Less than two minutes into the second half, United midfielder Miguel Ibarra poked the ball into the path of Ramirez, who smartly rounded Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco to place the ball into an empty net for a 1-0 lead.
A response was needed from the home side following the goal and Poku nearly provided that in the 51st minute. The Ghanaian midfielder bypassed a defender and squared the ball in front of the net for Chavez, but a last-ditch tackle by a visiting defender kept the score at 1-0.
All evening long, United’s defense proved to be a tough nut to crack. The visitors’ well-organized back line showed why they went on to win the NASL Spring Season Championship. Although United’s defense was the story, a member of their attack nearly made it 2-0 in the 68th minute. Forward Daniel Mendes looked to have scored his third goal in as many league games, but the crossbar was there to deny him as Nasco looked on hopelessly.
Smith brought on Cruz, who scored last week against FC Edmonton, in the 70th minute and breathed a little bit of life into the Silverbacks team. Just under 20 minutes after his introduction, Cruz was involved in the two plays that led to the Silverbacks’ equalizer.
In the 89th minute, some tricky dribbling from Cruz drew a foul just outside of the visiting penalty area. The Pasadena, Calif. native then stepped up to take the ensuing free kick, and while he launched it straight into the wall, it struck the hand of a United player and forced referee Chris Penso to point to the penalty spot.
Chavez emerged as the player to step up to take the penalty kick, and tossing the pressure aside, the forward easily placed the ball into the right side of the net to make the score 1-1 and earn an important draw for the home side.