The Atlanta Silverbacks have been a mainstay of the North American Soccer League since its rebirth in 2011. That being said, every offseason has been filled with rumors about the survival of the team. This offseason has been no exception. The biggest difference this time is that we are about to enter a new year without a resolution to the fate of the franchise.
Those looking for good news should look west to San Antonio. The Scorpions will not be back at Toyota Field in 2016, the facility was sold to the City of San Antonio. The stadium will be home to a new USL franchise in 2016, operated by the owners of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs. There's talk of the Scorpions moving to Las Vegas, but it's extremely unlikely they would be ready to field a team in Sin City in 2016.
What does this mean for Atlanta?
The league released a statement last week that included this:
Every sports league in North America has experienced turnover in its early stages and the NASL is fortunate to have a group of owners and league officials that has a tremendous understanding of how to work through change. Ownership and investment interest is at an all-time high, and we expect to be a 20-team league in the near future.
Last year saw eleven teams participate in the NASL season. Miami FC, Puerto Rico FC, and Rayo OKC will be joining the league in 2016, although there are some rumors that some of them might not start until the Fall Season. Take San Antonio out of the equation and that leaves thirteen teams for 2016. Minnesota United will be leaving for MLS after the 2016 or 2017 season as well.
With a goal of getting to 20 teams in the near future, now might not be the time to allow Atlanta to disappear. While the league is looking for new owners for the team, the San Antonio news might make it necessary to fund the operations in Atlanta for another year. Losing two teams this offseason would make it a harder sell to owners of new expansion franchises.
Sulaiman Folarin reported in September that each team in 2015 contributed $250,000 to operate the Silverbacks. That investment might be necessary again for the good of the league. There is interest from investors in new NASL franchises in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and San Francisco. With these new expansion teams kicking off in 2017 at the earliest, operating Atlanta for at least another year might be a necessity for the league.