In news that is sadly familiar to readers of this site, a professional soccer league took over ownership of an at-risk club on Tuesday. This time, it was the North American Soccer League and the Atlanta Silverbacks, with the NASL looking for a new owner of the club and committed to keeping it in Atlanta.
Clearly, this is not the end of the story, but merely the middle, but the Silverbacks have been rumored for weeks to be in existential danger or destined to move to a new location. The club, in existence in some form or another since the mid-1990s, and in the current NASL since its inaugural season in 2011, has had its share of ups and downs competitively and was even taken over by its league in the past, when the A-League stepped in in 1998, but also made it to the Soccer Bowl title game last year, before falling to the New York Cosmos. Former Chivas USA midfielder Blair Gavin played for the club this year.
Despite questions of whether an NASL team in Atlanta can be sustainable with MLS coming to the city in 2017 (the Cosmos are the only NASL team at present to play in the same market as an MLS side), NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson was bullish on the prospects of keeping the team in the area:
"The Greater Atlanta area is one of the biggest sports markets in the country, and the number of people involved in soccer is staggering." Peterson said in the statement from the league. "Our commitment to the global game and our emphasis on a competitive structure has resulted in unprecedented growth and momentum. We are confident today that the NASL will thrive in Atlanta for decades to come."
Of course, all of this sounds pretty familiar to the situation for Chivas USA in MLS, with the league saying they were looking for an owner while holding onto the team temporarily, and saying they wanted to keep the team in the present location. In CUSA's case, of course, that didn't turn out to be the case, as the team was folded within a year of the league stepping in to take over the club in favor of new ownership starting an expansion team.
Will that happen in the Silverbacks' case? I won't pretend to be an expert on the team, but from the fans of the club I know on social media, it seemed they were happy to be rid of owners Boris Jerkunica and Henry Hardin, which is analogous to what happened with the Goats.
But it's worth remembering that not all situations like these end in the worst case scenario, i.e., CUSA's. The Silverbacks' NASL competitor Minnesota United FC was taken over by the league in 2011, and finally found a new owner in Bill McGuire in Nov. 2012. Since rebranding the club to its current name, the club has performed well on and off the field in Minneapolis and has even approached MLS as a potential expansion team in recent meetings.
Again, we'll have to wait and see how it shakes out for Atlanta. Today's news could be a lifeline for a club, or the first signs of death for an established brand in American soccer. I'd urge fans to have some sympathy for Silverbacks' fans, and hope for an outcome better than Chivas USA's.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!