Silverbacks, Irapuato give fans entertaining soccer on chilly night

ATLANTA -- Mexican soccer star Cuauthemoc Blanco and his Irapuato FC team brought some soccer talent to Georgia on Wednesday, but the Silverbacks showed they can play the game, too.

Both teams put on a show of skilled soccer -- Atlanta had the better play in the first half, Irapuato in the second -- and gave the fans who braved the cold an entertaining game. Irapuato gave its fans a 1-0 victory with a goal by Ulises Mendivil in the 48th minute, but both sides could be pleased with the play in an exhibition.

"I think it was really important for us in preparation for the last part of our season," Blanco said through an interpreter. "The most important thing is the people who came to the stadium today are happy."

A lot of people have come to the metro Atlanta area from Blanco's home country, and he wasn't surprised at the vocal support Irapuato and he received.

"There's a lot of Mexicans who are here," Blanco said. "They love to come watch soccer with the family, and I was expecting (a good turnout)."

The Silverbacks, coming off a last place finish in their first season in the NASL, showed flashes of great possession and passing skills that had been mostly lacking during the season. Blanco complimented the competition he faced from the home team.

"I think (Atlanta) is a good team. Obviously they need to be more aggressive. But it was a good game. They fought, and it was complicated for us to beat them."

Lawrenceville native Jimmy Maurer started the game in goal and helped keep Irapuato off the board in the first half. Maurer had trained with Blanco before and played against Mexican teams in his past, but this was the first time facing the Mexican legend on the pitch. He said it was an honor to face a player of Blanco's caliber.

"It's always a great experience to play against a professional team from another country," Maurer said. "They were very technical, very good on the ball as you would expect. They were a very good team, and it was a very good experience."

Ciaran O'Brien stepped up as a leader in the midfield for Atlanta, helping the team outplay Irapuato in the first half with good possession and clean passing. O'Brien created a couple of scoring chances for the Silverbacks off free kicks with Beckham-like movement on the ball. His teammates weren't able to capitalize for a goal, but O'Brien said that's the quality they have been trying to create all season.

"We put them under a lot of pressure, and I don't think they were expecting us to be as good as we were," O'Brien said. "In games like that, it happens. Usually the team that doesn't have as much experience is a little bit more motivated and wants to win a little bit more than the team that has played in these games a lot."

The appearance of Blanco gave local fans a rare chance to see a world class player in town, and O'Brien said it was a great experience for the team and the supporters who came out.

"It's so great," he said. "The fans love him. It's good for Atlanta, it's good for us, and I think we gave them a great game."