Forward Bradlee Baladez had the only goal of the match to lead the visiting Fort Lauderdale Strikers to a 1-0 win over the NASL Spring Season Champion Atlanta Silverbacks to a crowd of 3,822 at Atlanta Silverbacks Park on Saturday evening.
“We scored with the first big chance we got and I think we deserved the win,” said Strikers coach Günter Kronsteiner. “We had a lot of chances to close this game, and the home team also had some chances. When I got to this team, the team was in last place and had no confidence. We’ve been working on building that confidence back up and I think they’ve been getting it back.”
Silverbacks coach Brian Haynes’ club did little to trouble the visiting defense and didn’t really force Strikers goalkeeper Richard Sanchez into any noteworthy saves in the early going.
The breakthrough came in the 34th minute when defender Ivan Guerrero found a very loosely-marked Baladez, who easily headed his first NASL goal past Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco to give his team a 1-0 lead.
It went from bad to worse in first-half stoppage time when midfielder Danny Barrera was sent off by referee Daniel Fitzgerald for an apparent elbow on an opposing player.
The Silverbacks were energetic coming out of the locker room, putting immediate pressure on the visiting back line. Unfortunately, nothing came of the early pressure, and it was actually the Strikers who created the first scoring chance of the second half. Midfielder Mark Anderson got on the end of a Strikers’ counterattack, and only a massive save from Nasco could prevent the Englishman from doubling his team’s lead.
As the half wore on, though, the Silverbacks started to seem like the team playing with a one-man advantage. After Strikers forward Martin Nuñez was whistled for a hand ball in the 61st minute, midfielder Alex Caceres nearly found Lancaster with a well-placed chip, but it ended up just out of the reach of the veteran defender.
Midfielder Horace James followed up his top-notch performance in Edmonton with another strong showing on Saturday night. The Jamaican would be the next player to come close to finding the Silverbacks an equalizer. The ball was played over the top to James, who was unable to poke the ball past Sanchez during a one-on-one opportunity.
James continued to wreak havoc on the Strikers’ defense, coming agonizingly close to tying the game in the 80th minute. Substitute midfielder Pablo Cruz sent a lofted cross into the penalty area, with James meeting it in the air and heading it inches wide of Sanchez’s post.
The second half continued to be all about the Silverbacks, and just before the game entered stoppage time, Sanchez provided the Silverbacks with their most glorious opportunity of the game. The Mexican was whistled for an infraction just seven yards from the goal, giving the Silverbacks an indirect free kick right at the spot of the foul.
Cruz touched the ball towards forward Pedro Mendes, who struck the ball into a wall that was set up across the enter goal line. Cruz then saw his follow-up header glance off the post before it was cleared away by the visiting defense. The play summed up the whole second half, with the Silverbacks coming just inches away from clinching a share of the points on numerous occasions.
“I thought we gave a good effort in the second half with our 10 players, however things didn’t go our way tonight,” said Haynes. “This is a team that was in last place and they came here and beat us so now we have to make sure we can re-group so that when we play against Tampa we are ready to play.”
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