If you spent much time watching the Atlanta Silverbacks last season, you might as well just forget everything you saw. Over the offseason, the club has rebuilt completely, and should look vastly different than they did before.
First and foremost, the NASL has stepped in and taken over ownership of the club, in the process, ousting one of the least committed ownership groups in the league. The first thing the league did was to eliminate the dabbling with Skype management from Europe, and appointed an experienced, MLS Cup winning manager in Gary Smith.
Smith won't be working with a squad that looks anything like Eric Wynalda's random assortment of talent, as only four members of last season's squad will be returning. There hasn't been any sort of extravagant spending in Atlanta, but it does look as if Smith will have a more balanced squad to work with than any of his recent predecessors.
The 2015 Silverbacks should be just as interesting to watch as the 2014 group was, but for entirely different reasons. Last season's Silverbacks were a disorganized disaster that scored the fewest goals in the league while also conceding the most. They occasionally played some awfully fun soccer, but a league-worst 23 points taken from 27 fixtures was hard for fans to stomach. At the very least, Smith's side should be far more organized, and their progress as a unit could be the first steps toward a competitive club in the future.
Notable additions: Matt Horth (Leiknir Reykjavík), Hans Denissen (NY Cosmos), Paul Black (Cheltenham Town), Simon Mensing (Livingston), Steward Ceus (Narpes Kraft), Dominic Oppong (AC Oulu), Rauwshan McKenzie (Portland Timbers), Kyle Porter (DC United), Michael Reed (Minnesota United), Kyle Miller (Oklahoma City Energy), Jon Okafor (Arizona United)
Key departures: Deon McCauley, Kwadwo Poku, Pablo Cruz, Junior Sandoval, Junior Burgos, Blair Gavin, Eric Ati, Ryan Roushandel, and pretty much everyone else from last season's train wreck
2015 outlook: Gary Smith is a very good coach, and there are some out there that are quite high on the 2015 Silverbacks because he's in charge.
Fearless #NASL prediction...league owned @ATLSilverbacks could contend for a spot in the championship. Gary Smith that good a coach.— Kartik Krishnaiyer (@kkfla737) March 29, 2015
I'm certainly not going to go that far, as I just don't think there's enough talent in this squad to make a sustained playoff push. The squad hasn't looked particularly dangerous in the preseason either, and while their defense has been decent against some pretty poor opposition, the attack hasn't clicked at all.
I think the Silverbacks have made some nice strides in rebuilding the mess created by ownership and management over the past several seasons, but feel they're most likely to finish near the bottom of the table while looking much improved as the season progresses.