It spends a lot of time in my upstairs closet, situated toward the back of the clothes rack where it remains mostly unworn.
But every once in a while, I’ll break out the red jersey – the one with the Atlanta Silverbacks badge sandwiched between the Joma brand name on top and Premiere Global Services sponsor logo on the bottom.
It even has a sweet, old school USL logo on one of the sleeves.
Oh, yeah, I got the caps – both a black one and a red one.
As a Birmingham native, Atlanta was always the closest big league town that had professional soccer.
So although I was a New York Cosmos fan back in the days of the original North America Soccer League, the Chiefs were something of a “home team” for me.
But while the Chiefs, like the NASL, are no more, the Silverbacks are survivors. And I’ve followed their odyssey from the beginning.
Officially, they’ve been around 20 years, becoming the Silverbacks in 1998. However, they actually started their soccer life as the Atlanta Ruckus in 1995.
Since then they’ve played in circuits such as the American Professional Soccer League (which morphed into the A-League), the United Soccer League First Division, the rebooted NASL and now the National Premier Soccer League.
I suppose one could make the case that they’re working their way down the ladder. But I’m not going to be that cynical, which is something of an upset because I’m cynical by nature.
True, in U.S. soccer’s unofficial pyramid, the NPSL represents the fourth division.
But if you like soccer from the ground up – and the NPSL is certainly that – it’s a great fit for a club that absolutely refuses to go six feet under.
And I love the way this club is going about its business.
Have you heard about the Atlanta Silverbacks FC Trust?
Go to asfctrust.org and read about it. Do that, and you’ll see how grassroots soccer is supposed to work.
The primary focus behind the trust is for fans to raise $100,000 to contribute to the club’s operating expenses. Once that threshold is met, it will own 25 percent of the team and have a seat on the board of directors.
This is the model of many successful soccer clubs in Europe and, in fact, partial fan ownership is required in Germany.
This is what community soccer is all about and what makes it accessible to everyone.
Certainly, Atlanta United FC is the “sexy” soccer team in the city right now. Shoot, with the number of fans it drew to Bobby Dodd Stadium and later Mercedes-Benz Stadium in its inaugural season in 2017, it’s the golden child of Major League Soccer.
And that’s terrific. The passion of Terminus Legion is very real and contagious – proof that the Deep South can be a futbol hotbed as well as a football hotbed.
But MLS has a single entity structure and Arthur Blank is the “investor-operator” of the franchise. The decision-making group is a small one.
If the Silverbacks get their way, though, fans will not only get a seat at the table, they’ll get to eat, too. It’ll be more than a club they root for because they’ll have skin in the game.
It’s kinda funny … for as long as the team has been around, I only got to cover it as a reporter once.
On March 28, 2015, the Silverbacks came to Riggs Field to play Clemson in an exhibition. Managed by Gary Smith (currently coach and TD of Nashville SC of the United Soccer League), they won on a goal by Matt Horth, who now serves as coach of Gordon College.
I spent a long time bending Smith’s ear after the match, and at the time it seemed that Atlanta and the modern iteration of the NASL might be in for a long association.
Of course that wasn’t the case.
Earlier in the week, the NASL announced it had canceled the 2018 season and you have to believe that decision was tantamount to folding for good.
But while that league won’t be going forward, the Silverbacks will, with their home opener at Silverbacks Park slated for May 26 against Asheville.
For those of us who want to see real change in American soccer, this is where it starts.
The Silverbacks are an old team that will feature young talent, and you don’t have to take out a loan to take your family to see a match.
I’m going to make a point to go to Silverbacks Park this season. The home team hosts Greenville FC on June 16, and since I’m based in Greenville, that might be a good excuse to take a road trip.
And the trust?
Maybe I’ll contribute to that as well. While it’s fun to talk about turning the United States into a soccer nation, it also requires some effort.
I need to put my money where my mouth is.
The Silverbacks have scratched and clawed their way through history, and I think their persistence should be rewarded.
It’s great to see them survive.
But it’ll be even greater to see them thrive.