Silverbacks co-owner Boris Jerkunica was a happy man on Wednesday as his coaching staff and a few players showed off the big, silver platter that comes with winning the NASL’s Spring Season title.
“I feel really good, not just only what’s going on on the field,” he said. “Everything is going well. We are selling out every game (5,117 people per game). People love being at the games. It’s a good, family atmosphere.”
But Jerkunica wasn’t a happy man a little more than a year ago.
“I’ll be blunt,” he said. “As a soccer fan, the only reason I was at the games is I was an owner of the team, and I had to be there. There were a lot of things I didn’t like.”
The team finished last in the NASL in 2011 and was mired in the bottom of the standings in the first half of the 2012 season. The players seemed to lack confidence and accountability.
Jerkunica met with Michael Hitchcock, formerly the general manager of Dallas in MLS, who was on retainer as a consultant for the Silverbacks.
“I asked how do we kick-start this? I can’t take it anymore,” Jerkunica said.
Out went the old front office in June and coaching staff in early July and in came a new staff, with the signature pieces being coach/consultant Eric Wynalda and coach Brian Haynes.
New talent, not hindered by the past failures, was brought in. Training sessions started and finished on time. Because of the summer heat, Haynes cut the practices to 1-1 ½ hours compared to the 2-3 hour practices preferred by the previous coaching staff.
“You get in, you get out, you keep it short and sharp,” said defender Martyn Lancaster, who signed with the team before the 2012 season. “It has a ripple effect on how you play.”
Changes were made off the field, as well.
A dinner was held, and everyone who plays or works for the franchise was invited. Lancaster said it helped develop chemistry.
Any problems the players had – from the lack of confidence to inconvenient living arrangements – were brought to the attention of Wynalda and Haynes, who did their best to find solutions.
The goal was to allow the players to focus exclusively on their soccer.
“I called it our yellow brick road story,” Haynes said. “Some players needed some heart, some (needed) some courage. … We want to handle your problems, you play. When people know that you care, they will care about what you know.”
The Silverbacks started 2013 fast, defeating Fort Lauderdale 2-0 and knocking off Tampa Bay, the defending champ, 4-3.
Haynes said it was then that he realized the team finally believed in itself.
It finished the first half 6-3-3 to win the Spring Season and earn the right to host the Soccer Bowl in November. Details on when and where that game will be played are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.
So Jerkunica was a happy man Wednesday, and so were his players. The team’s Fall Season will start at Minnesota on Aug. 3.
“We are ready to play on Saturdays,” midfielder Lucas Paulini said.