The Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League (NASL) are close to completing an incredible feat. They currently sit atop the NASL Spring Season standings with just three matches remaining. A year ago at this time they sat anchored to the bottom of the NASL table, a year after setting a record for the least amount of wins by a second division American side in a twenty-eight game season. Eric Wynalda, the legendary US international and popular FOX Soccer Commentator working with former MLS player and Trinidad and Tobago International Brian Haynes has orchestrated an enthralling comeback on the field. Simultaneously, General Manager Andy Smith has turned around the fortunes of the sagging organization at the gate and created a buzz locally about the team.
When Smith took over as a General Manager of the Atlanta Silverbacks in early 2012, the club was struggling on the field and at the gate. The revived Silverbacks who had suspended operations after the 2008 season returned for the 2011 NASL Season putting a team on the pitch whose quality was questionable and whose management was severely lacking in proper seasoning or understanding of the American soccer scene.
Smith and his company Playbook Management International (PMI) immediately set out to hire motivated and skilled sales people while creating deeper roots in the community working with various elements that support soccer in one of America’s largest Metropolitan Areas. But despite growing crowds and increased media buzz locally, the team sat mired at the bottom of the table, continuing the previous season’s losing ways while beset by a culture that was less than professional.
Enter Eric Wynalda, the US Soccer legend and frequent critic of the development system in this country. Wynalda had just taken Cal FC, an amateur team with less than a month together to the 4th round of the US Open Cup shocking the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field in Round 3. Cal FC’s exploits became such a national story, that the 4th Round match versus Seattle was picked up on national television, the first non-final Open Cup match ever broadcast on national television.
Wynalda, whose frequent yet valid critiques of the US Soccer structure and hierarchy have made him a polarizing figure in some establishment circles, was sought out to join the Silverbacks by Smith and PMI Founder Michael Hitchcock. Wynalda originally was not interested but Smith’s persistence and articulation of the goals the organization were attempting meet led to the US Soccer legend joining the side as the Interim Head Coach and Team Advisor in late June 2012.
The culture of the Silverbacks immediately changed and while Wynalda returned to FOX Soccer in mid-August 2012 for the beginning of the Premier League season, his handpicked Head Coach Brian Haynes took Atlanta out of the basement and finished the 2012 NASL Regular Season as the in-form team. Atlanta missed the playoffs but gave a statement of intent for 2013, by compiling the best record in the NASL after August 15th.