Eric Wynalda Gets First Win as Professional Coach; Silverbacks Down Stars in Minnesota
In his second game ever as a professional coach, Eric Wynalda and his last place Atlanta Silverbacks defeated the 4th place Minnesota Stars at the NSC Stadium in Blaine, Minnesota in front of a sparse holiday weekend crowd of 1,728. Goals by Matt Horth in the 10th minute and Borfor Carr in the 75th minute were enough to sink the Stars whose recent form has been inconsistent. Minnesota defeated the 2nd place Islanders on Wednesday in a powerful performance that saw them through a 4-0 defeat of Puerto Rico.
However, the big story of the night was 6’2″ Jahbari Willis who had been signed from the Silverbacks reserve team a month ago. Willis, making his pro debut under Wynalda who liked his form in training, nearly had a goal of his own and assisted on the first Atlanta goal and played a part in the second while playing target forward.
“Jahbari Willis is a handful,” said Wynalda. “I think when you get in a game like this you are going to have to fight. When you go on the road you have to have heart. He could have had a goal but he showed his willingness to not give up on plays. If I was a defender, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to play against that guy. He’s tough but he’s also a lot more talented on the ball than people would expect.”
The first Atlanta goal initially looked to be offside but never saw the flag of the AR who seemed to be lagging on the play. Horth tracked down a long floating ball from the right flank that went over the top of the Minnesota defense. He trapped the ball and sent it back to Willis. The rookie forward fed the ball back through to Horth who finished in the 9th minute from close range.
The Stars had several chances in the first half but couldn’t seem to capitalize on those opportunities and too often the final pass missed its mark. In the second half Atlanta seemed to take the bulk of possession with Minnesota struggling to keep the ball with uncharacteristically poor passing. Still, the Stars outshot the Silverbacks 16-7 and forced 6 saves from Atlanta keeper Daniel Illyes.
The Silverbacks seemed to close the door on any chance of a comeback in the 75th minute when Willis stripped the ball from the Stars’ Neil Hlavaty at midfield, took the ball up field for a few touches, than laid the ball into the path of the Silverbacks’ Borfor Carr. Stars defender Ernest Tchoupe reacted slowly and Carr muscled his way past on a 15-yard dribble before hitting a perfect chip shot from the right side of goal, 15 yards out and over goalkeeper Matt VanOekel.
Carr made a beeline run to Wynalda after the goal to embrace the interim manager who seems to have breathed fresh life into the struggling team.
The Stars had one last chance minutes later that also went flat and proved it wasn’t their night and that Atlanta was willing to defend valiantly. With a long ball over the top of Atlanta’s defense, Stars forward Simone Bracalello popped the ball up and played a self-pass that was blocked away. The ball eventually fell to the right wing player Kevin Venegas who played in a driven cross into the box that found the foot of substitute forward Amani Walker. He touched the ball at goal but found a prone Silverbacks keeper Daniel Illyes there to block his shot point blank. The ball trickled out to Bracalello who took a shot which was deflected by Atlanta to Martin Nunez, who also tried his luck only to find Illyes there once again blocking bravely and forcing the ball into the outside netting. That would be the Stars’ last good opportunity of the night.
“They’re like a horse that’s been beaten up,” said Wynalda about his team’s second win of the season. “They’re a good team. You just have to give them some reminders that this game is fun only when you win. They needed this. They needed to feel good about a game and start believing in each other. There was a couple of plays tonight that, man, they looked like a team. It really looked like a bunch of guys who wanted to win.”
“It’s been a crazy year so far,” said Atlanta midfielder Tony McManus. “People were losing faith. So you bring somebody in here who has the public recognition and knows the game, can analyze the game and really, really knows how to relate to the players. He starts to build the confidence from within. I think everyone on the outside is starting to get a little excited about it and that trickles all the way down to the team.”
McManus also had praise for Willis’ performance. “He’s somebody who’s been on the roster for about a month now and just hadn’t broken into the lineup. Eric is a former forward and he sees potential and knows how to get the best out of his players. Putting him (Willis) up there gives him a ton of confidence and getting an assist in his first game, the sky’s the limit and that’s thanks to Eric.”
“I think it was a bad day at the office,” said Stars head coach Manny Lagos. “They wanted it more. They came on the field and wanted to show their new coach that they wanted a spot on the roster. That’s fine, but I was just disappointed that our guys didn’t match their intensity and effort. I know we had a game a day later than they did, but we are the home team and a team in better form than they are right now. Giving up the early goal hurt and gave them the belief and the next thing you know…”
McManus stated that Atlanta wants to look to what Minnesota did last year as a goal for the Silverbacks, who currently sit 9 points out of a playoff spot. “We want to take a page out of their book. They scraped their way into the playoffs last year and found their way into the finals and won it all. We just want to build on the momentum that Eric has brought in and go from there.”
Stars defender Justin Davis was chosen as the Brit’s Pub/IMSoccer News – Minnesota Stars FC Man of the Match for his willingness to make runs from the back all night long in trying to help the Stars make a comeback.
Davis will receive a $50.00 gift certificate from Brit’s Pub and Eating Establishment for being chosen the Brit’s Pub/IMSoccer News – Minnesota Stars FC Man of the Match.