Yesterday, I took the time to answer a few questions for Sean Yancy of socceratl.com, which you can check out here. On Friday, Sean was kind enough to answer some questions I had ahead of the Cosmos trip to Atlanta, for which I'm extremely thankful.
SS - Hans Denissen's time in New York was a bit disappointing due to injury, but he's been healthy enough to make a pair of appearances for the Silverbacks already. How has he looked thus far?
SY - So far, so good. Though I think Gary Smith will have to limit Hans' appearances throughout this season due to his age and injury history, the first two times he got in the game were positive signs that he will make a favorable contribution. His first appearance changed the face of the match against Ottawa, and the Silverbacks scored to go 2-0 up on Carolina last weekend just after he came on. So while he may never return to the form that brought him a NASL Best XI nod in 2013, he could be a valuable weapon for Atlanta in 2015 if he can stay healthy.
SS - The Silverbacks did a pretty massive overhaul over the winter, so most Cosmos fans won't recognize the bulk of the roster. Which of the new signings have impressed you the most during the first three weeks of the 2015 season?
SY - The overhaul left the Silverbacks with only four players returning from the 2014 season, though Matt Horth had played with the team in previous campaigns. The most impressive play has come from Jon Okafor, who played in USL Pro last season with Arizona United. He plays on the right wing, though he often switches sides with former DC United man Kyle Porter. Okafor won the starting job, isn't afraid to take defenders on, and got the winning goal last week against the Railhawks.
Center back and captain Simon Mensing deserves a mention for leading the backline to a strong start to open the season. Fresh-out-of-college goalkeeper CJ Cochran has also impressed in injured number one Steward Ceus' absence due to knee injury.
SS - Ownership was the big story this winter in Atlanta with the league taking over as they did four years ago in Minnesota. The situations are obviously different with MLS coming to Atlanta, but what is the general sentiment about the ownership situation there?
SY - There's no doubt that the ownership situation is a concern. But the fact that there is a team on the field this season is something that nearly didn't happen, so I think the fans are happy. And that the team is playing well and getting results, especially so early, has the supporters thinking positively at the moment.
No team wants to be league-owned, but it saved the team for at least 2015. There's still no word on any potential ownership suitors, so as the year goes along that will become more of an anxious situation.
SS - Gary Smith was a fantastic hire in my opinion, and he's got the team playing well thus far. What is he doing differently from the pair in charge last season that seems to have things moving in the right direction?
SY - I agree that Smith has done a great job so far. I think it's a combination of scrupulous signing decisions, a seasoned and back-to-basics coaching approach, and execution of the game plan on the pitch that account for the good early start for the Silverbacks. There's a lot of work to be done as the season goes along and things like injuries and fatigue become a factor, but there's nothing better than getting started on the right foot, which Smith and his side have done.
SS - I didn't look at this group ahead of the season and picture a top half of the table side, but after three matches, they look much better than I expected. Do you think the Silverbacks can actually be in the hunt for a playoff spot this season?
SY - I think so. If they figure out a way to come out of the Cosmos match with the three points I think they can carry that momentum to contend for the Spring Season playoff spot. If injuries, fatigue, and depth issues don't haunt them too much, then I think they will be a 2015 playoff contender.
SS - Finally, do you think meeting number seven is the one that sees Atlanta finally get a win over the Cosmos?
SY - 0-5-1 all time is pretty daunting and the Cosmos are a very strong team. I'm going to pick the Cosmos to win 2-1. I also want to say that picking against the Silverbacks has brought results on a couple of occasions this season, so there's a fair amount of superstition in that pick.