Game Preview: Hammers take on Silverbacks in Atlanta to open 2017 Campaign

Long time no see. After a month-long hiatus, the BBL is back to talk soccer as the Hammers’ 2017 campaign is upon us. No more dreaming about soccer. No more worrying about roster choices, kits, sponsors, coaches, venues, etc… Just good old-fashioned footy.

And we have a dandy of a match to preview for you this week.

Logistics:

Who: Hammers @ Atlanta Silverbacks

When: May 6th at 4:00 PM CST / 5:00 PM EST

Where: Silverbacks Park, ATL

How can you watch: Stream the Facebook Live feed from the ATL Silverbacks page.

What’s At Stake: 3 Points in the Southeast Conference. Civic Pride.


The Opponents

The Atlanta Silverbacks were once a hot commodity in the Atlanta area. As a member of the NASL (2nd division of the US Soccer Structure), the ‘Backs were the biggest name around.

However, despite much on-field success, the Silverbacks could not figure out the professional game. And much changed for the franchise when Arthur Blank and his deep pockets decided to bring a MLS club the ATL.

The emergence of Atlanta United FC has put the Silverbacks on the brink of becoming irrelevant in their own home town. It certainly hastened their move out of the 2nd division and into the 4th division. Of all teams in the NPSL, this club is fighting to not be looked at as a ‘little brother’  and will scrap at all costs to earn their victories.

And they have a veteran-laden roster with plenty of professional experience that could help them achieve their 2017 goals. Look for the play of Kentaro ‘Taka’ Takada (probably the coolest name in the conference) and Mitch Garcia to give the Hammers problems all day long.


The Boys in Red – Projected Starting XI

Hammers.vs.SBacks.May2017.StartingXI

Formation: 4-4-2

Attack: Raw talent and speed. That is what the Hammers have in the attack this year. I believe that Coach Wulf will start Freddy Ruiz and Oliver Cylkowski up top. Both have a knack for scoring goals; both look to be in really good form as well.

Midfield: Pushing the ball forward from the midfield will be a combination of Deandre Robinson and Gael Mabialas. Look for a lot of runs down the right touchline from Mabialas with crosses back across the middle. Mabialas has world-class speed. Don’t believe me? Go watch him play when the Hammers return to Birmingham on May 13th. The kid can fly!

Coach Wulf will use the combination of Dan Demasters and Krish Patel to be the on-field leaders and lock up the defensive responsibilities in the midfield, with Patel occasionally pushing forward. Look for one of these two to be wearing the Captain’s armband.

Defense: With Jack Ball not available for the match this weekend, I project that Coach Wulf will go with experience in the spine of the backline. Alex Brown and Christian Adkins both have several caps under their belts, along with Brad Louis in goal. I look forward to seeing what Jacoby and Rocca can do in the fullback roles for the Hammers.


For another take on this upcoming match, go check my buddy Collin Barnwell’s game preview at the Let’s Get Hammered blog! Go tell him how wrong he is on his projected starting XI. #TeamBBL!

Come back after the game for my match summary and player rankings. Enjoy the soccer this weekend!

Hammers to Welcome Las Chivas Sub 23 in a Memorial Day Showcase Friendly

Mark your calendars Birmingham – the Hammers front office has organized a remarkable showcase friendly for all of the Magic City to enjoy.

This Memorial Day (May 29) at Samford Soccer Stadium on Lakeshore Drive in Homewood, the mighty Boys in Red will welcome Club Deportivo Guadalajara Sub 23 (Or simply, Las Chivas Sub 23) to the Magic City. Kick is scheduled for 6 PM.

A matchup against Las Chivas Sub 23 (players that are under the age of 23) will test the upstart Birmingham Hammers against some of the brightest up-and-coming soccer players in Mexico.

Chivas are one of the most popular soccer organizations in all of Mexico. Known for exclusively fielding Mexican players, Guadalajara has established itself as a known soccer brand not only in Mexico, but around the world.

IMG_0111.JPG

Image courtesy of http://www.taringa.net

At 9 years old, famous Mexican footballer Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) started his journey towards a professional career in the Chivas youth academy.

And today, as many as six Chivas players on this Sub 23 team may be included in the Mexican U20 World Cup team this summer, including standout defenders Jose Hernandez, Juan Aguayo, and forward Kevin Araujo.

Patrons watching this match will have the opportunity to see the future of Mexican soccer on display right here in the Heart of Dixie.

By scheduling this match, the Hammers have become more accessible to the entire soccer-loving community in Birmingham.

Sure – it’s just a friendly. But the Hammers organization has taken a major step towards introducing themselves to all of Birmingham. And they are doing it in style with a quality opponent from Mexico.

Ticket prices start at $10. Come out early  in the afternoon with the Magic City Brigade for a nice Memorial Day Tailgate, as this match is sure to be a soccer event like no other our city has seen before.

From Bristol to Birmingham: Building a Supporter’s Culture in the Magic City

The Birmingham BackLine is your source for local soccer news in the Magic City.

Today’s Guest Blogger is Simon Iles. 

Simon is a British Football fan in exile, having moved to the States in the Fall of 2015. He lives in Birmingham with his wife, who he is still determined to convert to soccer fandom. 


“Aaaaaaand it’s Bristol City! Bristol City FC! We’re by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen!”

I’ve been surprised how much I’ve missed it. Singing in the terraces of Ashton Gate, the humble home of my hometown club, Bristol City. Or, as the case was in 2008, singing it loud and proud at the home of football – Wembley Stadium – during the agonizing 2008 Playoff Final defeat to Hull City that saw my wildest dreams of Bristol City playing in the Premier League come so tantalizingly close.

For anyone wanting an English football lesson that’s off the beaten path, do some Googling on that day’s match winner, Dean Windass. Kids, he was Jamie Vardy before Jamie Vardy was Jamie Vardy. A bigger, louder Jamie Vardy.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I hadn’t held a Bristol City season ticket for a while before leaving the shores of the UK to make a new home here in Birmingham, AL in the Fall of 2015, but football (I’ll let you know when I’m not talking about “soccer”) remained an important part of life – a topic of daily conversations, plural. That I miss even more.

Before we go any further, you need to know that I’m also a Manchester United fan. I swear some people back home still think I’m a glory hunter (read: bandwagon jumper or “Seattle Seahawks fan”) for supporting Manchester United.

The truth is that I knew about Manchester United before I did Bristol City – all thanks to my football-crazy Grandmother. She developed an affinity for Matt Busby’s United side following the Munich Air Disaster, an affinity that turned into a lifelong fandom and many happy afternoons spent shouting at the TV with her grandson. I watched United win two Champions Leagues with her – now that she’s passed, those memories are even more special.

Even in Bristol, miles away from Manchester, you couldn’t escape the Red Devils. I worked with two fellow United fans (neither from Manchester) and it wasn’t unusual for us to postulate about the post-Fergie decline over the constant clicking of keyboards.

You’d even catch me deep in footballing conversation at church – one of my pastors was a United fan (actually from Manchester) who once preached in his United jersey. I kid you not.

Safe to say, it’s been harder than I thought not to be surrounded by football. All the early Saturday mornings on NBC can’t replace being in a culture where it was a way of life. It’s been harder keeping up with United than I’d hoped despite the surprisingly extensive coverage and it’s pretty much impossible to keep up with Bristol City outside of checking their score on the ESPN app.

That’s the void the Hammers have the challenge of filling. And that’s why I’m excited to be a part of the Magic City Brigade this year – I attended every home game last season, but I really wanted to be in the red and yellow corner, with the flags a-waving and the flares a-glowing.

I wanted to join in with the new songs (it really is very simple, I wanted to go “freaking mental”) and be a part of the in-jokes (“be stronger!”) But these antics, familiar to me, seemed to be met with everything from amusement to confusion by the rest of the general admission crowd. That’s no disrespect to them –Birmingham hasn’t been educated in football culture, at least not yet.

But there’s hope. I look to the incredible scenes at any Portland or Seattle home game with raucous crowds and stadium-sized flags that make the mural on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel look like a finger painting. Some parts of this great country get it – I’ve even been pleasantly surprised by Atlanta United – both on and off the pitch.

Then there’s the infrequent – but oh so precious – interactions with fellow lovers of the beautiful game. In fact, one of my most bizarre experiences since moving here was hearing an Arsenal-loving store assistant reliving Sylvain Wiltord scoring a title-winning goal at Old Trafford as I picked out a pair of khakis.

And then there’s Chattanooga. Regular readers of the Backline might be tired of the Bham-Nooga comparisons but, quite frankly, they are THE model for the Hammers.

I’m not aiming for Atlanta United right now. I’m aiming for Chattanooga FC. Success on the pitch whilst also taking advantage of a town without a pro team to build true grass roots support.

There’s much to be done even to reach that modest dream, but for now, I’m excited to be a part of it from (nearly) the very beginning. So, look out for me on Saturdays this summer in my red and yellow scarf. Listen out for me singing the new songs in a funny accent. I’m a British football fan in exile, and I hope I’ve found my new football home.


If you are interested in becoming a Guest Blogger on the Birmingham Backline, click this link and learn about the opportunity to share your thoughts on local soccer with a growing readership in the Magic City.

Savvy Scheduling: Hammers add two Friendlies to the 2017 Schedule

The Birmingham Hammers announced last Friday that they were adding two friendlies to the 2017 home schedule.

The Boys in Red will renew the I-20 Cup with the Georgia Revolution on June 13th.

But perhaps overshadowing that match is the May 27th matchup against the Atlanta United U18 squad.

The ATLUTD U18 match is savvy addition to the schedule for many reasons:

1. MLS is more popular than it has ever been and now that there is a team in the Deep South, there are a lot of fans here in Birmingham of the new franchise in Atlanta. ATLUTD is bringing that name recognition to town, and you better believe there will be plenty of people that’ll want to watch them play, even if it’s the U18 team.

2. Speaking of the ATLUTD U18 Team – did I mention it is one of the best academy teams in all of the MLS. There is boatloads of talent on the roster.

For starters, how about ATLUTD Homegrown signee Andrew Cartlon? Remember this name Backliners. He is a stud on the wing and he is currently on the U18 roster. It won’t be long until he is scoring for the senior team in MLS, and perhaps suiting up for our US Men’s National Team.

There is a possibility that he may be loaned out this summer to a USL club (probably the Charleston Battery) or maybe even called up to the ATLUTD Senior team… but if he’s still on the roster when they come to the SHAC, buy your tickets. It will be a show.

3. By bringing ATLUTD U18 to town, the Hammers players will have the opportunity to play in front of MLS Academy coaches. What better way to be seen than to actually play in front of the people that can connect you to a top level MLS side.

Expect the Boys in Red to put their best feet forward for this match. Maybe just maybe a few of our guys will get noticed.


Guys – if you don’t believe that the Hammers are putting something together special for 2017, after this announcement, you better get on board. We have a ton of quality soccer coming to the Magic City this summer and we are only about 43 days out.

Get your tickets over at the Birmingham Hammers website and start planning your tailgate NOW!


If you are interested in becoming a Guest Blogger on the Birmingham Backline, click this link and learn about the opportunity to share your thoughts on local soccer with a growing readership in the Magic City.

Southern Crowds come out for opening MLS Weekend in Atlanta; Meanwhile in Birmingham: Crickets

I took a trip over to Atlanta with a few buddies for the inaugural Atlanta United FC match.

The heart of Atlanta turned into a sea of patrons dressed in red, gold, and black, 55,000 strong.

And walking into the stadium, you could hear the rafters shaking from the persistent crashing of supporters’ feet as the teams warmed up on the field.

Who in the South doesn’t love a tailgate and competition? Because apparently Atlanta does.

Well, people from Atlanta, along with Birmingham, Chattanooga, Columbus, Charlotte, Nashville, Montgomery, and whatever other Southern cities within driving distance to north-central Georgia that are thirsty for soccer.

Tens of thousands of fans swarmed the Georgia Tech campus… not for the triple option of the Yellow Jackets. But for the triple threat of Martinez, Almiron, and Asad.

The players were athletic and fast. The crowd was electric. The noise was deafening at times. The scenery was something I could get used to.

The result was not what the home side wanted. The more savvy, veteran-heavy New York Red Bulls scored 2 in the last 15 minutes.

No, the result wasn’t what we wanted, but for many soccer fans in the south, having a top-flight game was exactly what we needed.

Cheers to Atlanta United FC. I will be back.

In the meantime…

I am so ready for soccer in Birmingham.

Still 2 months away from the Birmingham Hammers kicking off their 2017 NPSL campaign.

One has to wonder: will there ever be a soccer environment similar to the one in Atlanta last night right here in the Magic City?

I hope so. Don’t you?


If you are interested in becoming a Guest Blogger on the Birmingham Backline, click this link and learn about the opportunity to share your thoughts on local soccer with a growing readership in the Magic City.

The Birmingham Hammers 2017 Schedule: Avoiding the Sophomore Slump

The Birmingham Hammers announced their 2017 NPSL schedule earlier this week. Despite still needing to finalize a few roster spots and wrap up a few last-minute touches to the team, the path to a 2017 NPSL Southeast Conference Championship has become much clearer.

“We have several interesting matchups this summer,” said club President Morgan Copes, “most notably, the midweek game against Chattanooga. The schedule is going to be very challenging and will really test our new coaching staff as well as their players. We are determined to make SHAC a fortress for us this summer.”

The Hammers finished their 2016 NPSL campaign with a record of 2-7-1, having scored a league-low 1.0 goals per match while giving up 1.9 goals per match to their opponents. But their record from their inaugural NPSL campaign can be deceiving. It is notable that the club finished on a high note, taking series victories both over Memphis City FC and Nashville FC.

In 2017 however, much more is to be expected of the Boys in Red as there is no longer a learning curve for how to compete and win in the league. The NPSL Southeast Conference went through a realignment in the offseason, so there will be new tests in 2017. Below you will find all you need to know about the Hammers’ 2017 NPSL opponents.


Atlanta Silverbacks

Home: Thursday, June 22, 2017 (7 PM CST) – Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex

Away: Saturday, May 6th, 2017 (5 PM EST / 4 PM CST) – Atlanta Silverbacks Park

Supporters Group: The Atlanta Ultras

What you need to know: A team with a rich (relatively speaking) history for the NPSL, the Atlanta Silverbacks have been around for 19 seasons. The franchise played in the NASL through the 2015 regular season. But unable to find new ownership, the club’s affiliation with the 2nd division league was severed. The future of the Silverbacks rests with the NPSL.

The Hammers should be aware that the Silverbacks are coming off a highly successful 2016 NPSL campaign. The Silverbacks finished the year with a 7-2-4 record with a respectable loss to Miami United FC in the NPSL playoffs. The Silverbacks averaged 1.76 goals per league match in 2016 while only allowing their opponents to score 1.0 goal per match. Their crowning victory last season came against Tobacco Road FC with a 2-1 victory in the NPSL South Atlantic Conference Championship match.


Inter Nashville F.C.


Home: Saturday, May 13, 2017 (7 PM CST) – Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex

Away: Saturday, June 24, 2017 (7:30 PM CST) – Nashville (Antioch)

Supporters Group: TBD

What you need to know: Inter Nashville F.C. is joining the NPSL in 2017. They are filling the vacancy left by Nashville FC when that organization bolted for the USL. The club will play its home matches in Antioch, TN, a suburb of Nashville. Inter has been around at the youth levels since 2011.


Chattanooga FC

Home: Thursday, June 8, 2017 (7 PM CST) – Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex

Away: Saturday, May 20, 2017 (7:30 PM EST / 6:30 CST) – Finley Stadium

Supporters Group: The Chattahooligans

What you need to know: Chattanooga FC is a perennial NPSL power club, and is easily the favorite to win the NPSL Southeast Conference heading into the 2017 season. CFC was founded in 2009 and has been growing their brand ever since. CFC posted a 13-1-1 record in 2016, easily maneuvering past their conference rivals. CFC scored 2.2 goals per league match while only allowing 0.40 goals per match to their opponents. Chattanooga FC ran into their first loss of the season in the quarter finals of the NPSL Playoffs against Sonoma County Sol, losing 2-1.

The home and away matches against the Hammers in 2016 were competitive. CFC traveled to the SHAC early in the year and came away with a hard-fought 1-0 victory (video highlights). The Hammers made the return trip to Chattanooga later in the season and lost 2-o to the boys from the Scenic City.

As expected, the two 2017 CFC matches are critical to the Hammers’ success. The Thursday home match on June 8th is a big one for Birmingham. Go ahead and make plans to leave work a little early and attend this game to see the Hammers test their mettle against the gold standard of the NPSL. It should be a fun one.


Memphis City F.C.

Home: Saturday, July 1, 2017 (7 PM CST) – Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex

Away: Saturday, June 3, 2017 (7 PM CST) – Memphis

Supporters Group: Rogue Squadron MC

What you need to know: Like the Birmingham Hammers, Memphis City FC joined the NPSL in 2016. But unlike the Hammers, MCFC experienced many successes in their inaugural campaign. The club finished with a 6-4-2 record with an appearance in the NPSL Southeast Conference championship match, ultimately losing to Chattanooga FC 2-1.

Memphis City FC looks to build upon their 2016 success by continuing to bang in 1.75 goals per match while only allowing their opponents 1.16 goals per match. If the Hammers want to make the playoffs, they will need to earn a result on the road in Memphis early in June and then take all 3 points against the Rogues in the home season finale on July 1st.


New Orleans Jesters

Home: Saturday, June 10, 2017 (7 PM CST) – Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex

Away: Saturday, July 8, 2017 (7 PM CST) – New Orleans

Supporters Group: The Royal Court

What you need to know: New Orleans experienced a hot and cold season in 2016. The Jesters posted a 4-5-2 record against NPSL opponents. They scored 1.45 goals per match while giving up 1.63 goals to their opponents. They ultimately placed 3rd in the NPSL Southeast regular season and lost to Memphis City FC in the conference semifinal matchup.

The Hammers welcome the Jesters to Birmingham on June 10th where the result last year was a 1-1 draw. The Boys in Red will travel to the Big Easy on July 8th for the regular season finale and more than likely a playoff spot will be on the line. Is there a better road trip on the schedule than this one? Not a chance!


 Knoxville Force

Home: Saturday, June 17, 2017 (7 PM CST) – Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex

Away: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 (7:30 PM EST / 6:30 CST) – Knoxville, TN

Supporters Group: Scruffy City Syndicate

What you need to know:  The Knoxville Force played well enough to finish 4th in the NPSL Southeast Conference in 2016. However, they finished the season with a 4-7-0 record and a 0-5 drumming by Chattanooga FC in the conference semifinal. The Force scored 1.18 goals per match last season while allowing a league-worst 2.63 goals per match.

The Force and the Hammers know each other well. They have played each other in 2015 and 2016, with the Force taking all three matchups. If the Hammers expect to grow on the field in 2017, they need to make sure that they take care of business in the heart of their season against Knoxville. Otherwise it may be another long season for the Boys in Red.


If you are interested in becoming a Guest Blogger on the Birmingham Backline, click this link and learn about the opportunity to share your thoughts on local soccer with a growing readership in the Magic City. 

2017 Hammers Open Tryouts – What We Learned On Day 1

img_0022

Smart decisions and good first touches – that’s exactly what the Birmingham Hammers’ coaching staff was looking for during open tryouts at Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex earlier this morning. About 50 hopeful players representing eight different nationalities took to the pitch today to display their talents and decision-making while 25-30 supporters and family members cheered them on. And the weather could not have been better.

“Last week we were dodging ice storms. This week we had players sucking wind,” said Hammers’ President Morgan Copes. With temperatures around 65 degrees at 9 AM and pushing 80 degrees by noon, the Hammer hopefuls were given just a hint of what playing for Coach Wulf Koch would be like in the middle of an Alabama summer.

Birmingham’s Alternate Reality or A Hopeful Future? You Decide:

“It’s still early – we have time to grab a bite to eat,” I thought to myself.

It’s been raining all week. Typical Alabama spring weather. But today is the first day the sun has been out in full force, emphatically assuring those in the Magic City that summer is just around the corner. But tonight, James Spann has forecasted a hint of a cool breeze, so I make sure I grab a light jacket and my oldest Hammers scarf, you know – the yellow one – before leaving the house.

Since moving back to Birmingham from Nashville a few years ago, I have frequented my favorite Music City chicken joint, Hattie B’s. I was so glad when they opened up in Lakeview. It’s a slice of Nashville without all of the pretentious hipsters. And even better – I don’t have to wait in a line halfway down the street just to grab a bite of that sweet, spicy poultry. And furthermore, I can grab a nice Cahaba Blonde with my food. The perfect Birmingham accent to Nashville Hot Chicken.

Winter 2016 Update: Realignment in the Air

npsl-realignment

Division realignment was a major topic at the NPSL Annual Owners Meeting in Orlando last weekend (December 2-4, 2016). In the ever-changing world of US lower-division soccer, the NPSL has made some fairly significant changes to its conference structure for the upcoming 2017 season. What was a conference of 6 teams in 2016 is now expanded to a bi-divisional conference of 10 teams scattered across the Southeast. So what does this change mean for your Birmingham Hammers next season? Read on and I will break down what I know as well as speculate about what is still unknown.