In a game that featured four penalty kicks and a red card, the Atlanta Silverbacks played to a 3-3 draw against NASL newcomers Indy Eleven on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 5,000 fans at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
Silverbacks forward Jaime Chavez and Indy Eleven forward Mike Ambersley each struck twice to help their respective teams earn a point in a hard-fought battle.
Silverbacks Technical Director Eric Wynalda fielded a new-look lineup on Saturday night, looking to change things up following their home loss to league-leading Minnesota United FC last weekend. Defender Mitch Garcia and midfielder Alex Harlley were handed their first ever professional starts, while defender Beto Navarro and midfielder Pablo Cruz came back into the starting lineup after lengthy absences.
There haven’t been many high-scoring games at Atlanta Silverbacks Park in recent years, but on Saturday night, the game looked destined to be one. In the 11th minute, Silverbacks midfielder Borfor Carr drew a penalty for his team, knocking the ball off an Indy Eleven player’s hand in the penalty area. Chavez would be the one to step up to the spot, and he made no mistake, beating Indy Eleven goalkeeper Kristian Nicht low to his left to make it 1-0.
Indy Eleven couldn’t have had a quicker answer, though. Less than a minute later, the ball was in the Silverbacks net courtesy of Ambersley. The former Indiana University star was on the doorstep to put home a rebound that Silverbacks goalkeeper Eric Ati spilled after making a save.
As if two goals in two minutes weren’t enough, the Silverbacks put one home in the 15th minute to make it 2-1. A cross from Harlley was deflected and ended up at the feet of Cruz, who pushed the ball into the net to make it three goals in four minutes.
Both teams settled down after the opening minutes, with neither team creating many meaningful chances for the rest of the first half. The Silverbacks did get on the board for a third time, however, when Carr drew a second penalty. Midfielder Kwadwo Poku played Carr in on goal, and Indy Eleven midfielder Blake Smith tripped him up to send Chavez to the spot again. The Los Angeles native did well to convert the spot kick, getting his second goal of the first half to make it 3-1 in stoppage time.
It wasn’t all good news for the Silverbacks in the first half. Eric Wynalda was forced to make two notable changes in the first half, as goalkeeper Eric Ati and defender Abdul Bangura had to be replaced by Thomas Hunter and Ryan Roushandel respectively.
Indy Eleven came out of the locker room after halftime as the better side, and their improved play paid off in the 58th minute when a penalty kick was called following a Silverbacks foul. Cruz committed the infraction, and that sent Ambersley to the spot. The former Tampa Bay Rowdies man hit a perfect penalty, depositing it into the corner past Hunter to cut the deficit to one goal.
The visitors were reduced to 10 men midway through the second half when defender Fijero Okiomah brought down Jaime Chavez as the last defender. Chavez would have had a clear path towards goal, and the red card was an easy decision for the referee.
The Silverbacks pressed forward to increase their lead, and after missing several good scoring opportunities, it was Indy Eleven that would find the net. Former Silverbacks forward Pedro Mendes was brought down in the penalty area by Roushandel, giving substitute midfielder Kleberson the opportunity to equalize in the 88th minute. The former Brazil international did just that, firing a shot into the side netting to make the score 3-3.