Scouting the Silverbacks
There really isn’t much to report here. The Rowdies last competitive match was a 3-0 dismissal of the Silverbacks in the Spring Season finale and not a whole lot has changed in the three weeks since. Four days after that loss in St. Petersburg, Atlanta was trounced with another 3-0 result to the New York Red Bulls to knock them out of the U.S. Open Cup.
While the Silverbacks will undoubtedly be looking for vengeance from the Spring finale, they’ll also be in search of any sign of positivity in Saturday’s Independence Day showdown at Al Lang after losing their last three league matches. Head coach Gary Smith’s squad should be hungry for a win considering their last one came all the way back on April 18.
Atlanta will be without two regular contributors this weekend. Jaime Chavez of course is serving his suspension after receiving two yellow cards in the span of one minute in the Spring finale, but the visitors will also be without starting keeper Steward Ceus, who is away on national team duty for Haiti during the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Filling in for Ceus will be rookie C.J. Cochran, who already did so admirably in the first three weeks of the season while Ceus was recovering from knee surgery. The 23-year-old Georgia native only allowed three goals in his three league starts and was also in net for Atlanta’s victory over Chattanooga FC in the U.S. Open Cup.
The Rowdies gameplan should be similar to how they took down the Silverbacks less than a month ago. Maintaining high pressure and throwing speedy attackers at the older back line should pay dividends again. Atlanta is team that has had its confidence shaken pretty hard in the past two months so the last thing the Rowdies want is to allow them to settle into the match and find some swagger. The best chance for the Rowdies to get another positive result at home is to attack with purpose early and often to pressure the rookie keeper and the reeling Silverbacks.
Three Storylines Heading Into the Fall Season
- Thomas Rongen was rewarded for showing confidence in the forward line of Robert Hernandez, Corey Hertzog and Darwin Espinal, but how long will that continue into the Fall Season? For several reasons, the most experienced forward on the roster, Maicon Santos has been unable to entrench himself in the starting eleven. And even in some of the matches that he has appeared in thus far, the attack has looked uninspired and lifeless for long stretches. Rongen has said that the team is still searching for its consistent scoring identity and will take time to develop. The unit that finished out the Spring Season showed clear signs of cohesion. Was that a mirage caused by opponents in poor form or was it indications of a burgeoning attack? Only time will answer that, and in the meantime Santos may find himself in a bench role or a starter when a special match up calls for it.
- One of the more surprising notes of the Spring finale was that Rongen elected to bench a totally fit Georgi Hristov. The Bulgarian’s two red cards in the Spring Season were likely the biggest contributors to the decision. However, the terrific showing from Brian Shriver in his stead the week before against Edmonton probably gave Rongen a little extra comfort in the move. Hristov’s league-leading five assist tally in the 10-game Spring Season is hard to ignore; it means that the playmaker has contributed to one third of the goals scored this year. Is it enough for Rongen to overlook Hristov’s discipline issues, though? In his previous years with the Rowdies, Hristov developed a reputation as a player that likes to get animated with referees, but the term “dirty player” has never been associated with him until recently. The past record indicates that Hristov can move beyond this blip and get back to just being a good player and the overall game that he brings in every match is more than Shriver. However, Rongen has shown that the midfielder is on a short leash now and Shriver has demonstrated that he’s ready to step up and perform at a high level.
- Integral defensive midfielders Richard Menjivar and Marcelo Saragosa will likely be unavailable for some time in the Fall. Menjivar will miss at least the first two games in July while playing for El Salvador in the Gold Cup and Saragosa’s status is unknown as he continues to work his way back from injury. Juan Guerra will need to perform at a high level to keep the Rowdies on track throughout July, and perhaps even beyond that. The Venezuelan struggled in his first few appearances of the Spring, but turned things around quite nicely in the final two matches. Rongen will need more of that as he hopes to solidify his starting midfield unit in the more arduous Fall Season. Consistency was the main ingredient missing from the midfield in the Spring, so hopefully Guerra is ready to show his last two performances were not a fluke.