In July 1994, the American Professional Soccer League announced it had accepted the Atlanta Magic, owned by Sam Chase, as a new franchise for the 1995 season. At the time, the Magic played in the USISL. In October 1994, the team, still referred to as the Atlanta Magic, signed national team forward Bruce Murray. However, by November 1998, Chase had decided to enter an entirely new team, to be named the Atlanta Ruckus, in the APSL. Despite this decision, several Magic players moved to the Ruckus, including Bill Andracki, Chris Hellenkamp, Brian Moore and Mo Suri. Even after the creation of the Ruckus, the Atlanta Magic continued to play in the USISL, losing to the Baltimore Bays in the 1995–96 USISL indoor season championship.
The Ruckus nearly failed even before it had played a game. Six weeks before the 1995 season, Chase experienced financial difficulties and failed to post the required $100,000 letter of credit with the league by the March 1 deadline. The league nearly revoked the franchise, but, South African businessman Johnny Imerman quickly stepped in and bought the team. The Ruckus, under former U.S. national team coach Lothar Osiander, began its competitive existence on May 5, 1995 when it defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first game of the newly renamed A-League. The Ruckus experienced a mid-season loss of form, but the addition of several new players, including Justin Fashanu, led to a resurgence. Atlanta made it to the championship series, only to lose to the Seattle Sounders in three games. After losing nearly $600,000 in 1995 and continuing to lose money in 1996, Imerman arranged for the league to take over team operations in June 1996. In August 1996, Vincent Lu purchased the franchise. In June 1998, the league suspended the team after Lu refused to sign a renewed franchise agreement with the league. The A-League continued to operate the team, now known as the A-League Atlanta. At the time Umbro had a promotional contract with the A-League and it contacted a local Atlanta law firm, Alston & Bird, about the possibility of litigation against the league and Lu. However, this contact resulted in Alston & Bird lawyer John Latham purchasing the team along with his friend Bobby Glustrom. In September 1998, Latham and Glustrom hired Mike Balson as general manager. Balson then hired 1996 USISL Coach of the Year Nuno Piteira as head coach.
In a September 1998 press conference at Zoo Atlanta, the two partners also announced the team would be known as the Atlanta Silverbacks in honor of Willie B., a silverback gorilla who was a star attraction at the zoo. The team also moved to DeKalb Memorial Stadium for the 1999 season. From at least 1999 to at least 2001, the Silverbacks were affiliated with the Dallas Burn of Major League Soccer. In January 2000, David Cormack joined Latham and Glustrom as owners of the Silverbacks, but left in September to become the Chief Executive of Aberdeen F.C. In 2000, Atlanta and Tennessee Rhythm began an annual competition for the Willie B. Cup. Between 2000 and 2007, when the cup was discontinued, the Silverbacks won it four times. Despite the new ownership group, coach and stadium, the Silverbacks continued to struggle on the field. From 1996 through 2001, the team went through seven coaches and missed the playoffs six consecutive seasons. In 2002, the Silverbacks, under head coach Brett Mosen, made the playoffs and went to the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. In 2003, Atlanta began another string of poor seasons, failing to make the playoffs for four seasons. Finally in 2007, for the first time since its inaugural season in 1995, Atlanta made it to the league championship, falling to the Seattle Sounders.
In November 2009, the Silverbacks announced their intent to leave the USL First Division to become the co-founders of a new North American Soccer League, which would begin play in 2010. The league, which at the time had yet to be sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation or the Canadian Soccer Association, would also comprise the Carolina RailHawks, Crystal Palace Baltimore, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Montreal Impact, FC Tampa Bay, Vancouver Whitecaps and a brand new team led by St. Louis Soccer United. However, the NASL was not sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation and the Silverbacks did not play during the 2010 season. On November 20, 2010, the USSF sanctioned the NASL and the Atlanta Silverbacks immediately re-joined for the 2011 season.
On May 22, 2012, the Atlanta Silverbacks created controversy when they became the first team to sell the rights to host a 2012 U.S. Open Cup match to the Seattle Sounders.
On July 2, 2012, the Silverbacks announced former United States men's national soccer team star Eric Wynalda would take over as the club's interim head coach and Director of Soccer, replacing Alex Pineda Chacón and Rodrigo Rios respectively. Wynalda appointed Brian Haynes as the team's permanent head coach, while Wynalda remained on the Silverbacks' staff as technical director. Under the leadership of Haynes and Wynalda, the team enjoyed a remarkable turnaround and captured the 2013 NASL Spring season title, thus earning the right to host the 2013 Soccer Bowl, which the Silverbacks lost 1–0 to the New York Cosmos. Haynes posted a regular season record of 13 wins, 10 losses, and 10 draws and won the 2013 NASL Coach of the Year trophy, but team leadership ultimately decided not to retain him as head coach, citing poor results during the 2013 fall season.
At the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Silverbacks defeated MLS teams Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids to reach quarterfinals, where they lost to Chicago Fire.
On December 2, 2014, the NASL rented the Silverbacks name from Boris Jerkunica and Henry Hardin and continued to operate the team through the 2015 season. The league was not successful in finding new ownership, and their NASL Atlanta franchise was suspended on January 11, 2016. The club continues to play in the National Premier Soccer League.
The Silverbacks official colors are red, black, silver, and white, and the club logo features those four colors prominently. On January 23, 2013 a new logo was announced. The club's name was inspired by Willie B., a gorilla who was a main attraction of Zoo Atlanta until his death in February 2000.
In September 2012, a poll was posted on the Silverbacks' official website relating to a potential rebrand. The options were: to retain the Silverbacks name, a rebrand to Atlanta Chiefs to recall the team from the original NASL or a third write-in option. The name Atlanta FC was later added to the poll after receiving a "significant" number of the write-in votes.DeKalb Memorial Stadium; Clarkston, Georgia (2003–05)
Atlanta Silverbacks Park; Atlanta (2006–16)
The Silverbacks play their home games at Atlanta Silverbacks Park, a 5,000-seat soccer-specific stadium built in 2006 for use specifically by the team. In addition to the main stadium, the complex features several international size practice fields that are used by recreational soccer teams, high school soccer and lacrosse teams, and a local rugby club. Over the years, the stadium has gone by a variety of sponsorship names, including ReMax Greater Atlanta Stadium.
Prior to the 2006 season the Silverbacks played at various municipal stadiums in the Greater Atlanta area, most notably DeKalb Memorial Stadium in Clarkston.
This list of former players includes those who received international caps while playing for the team, made significant contributions to the team in terms of appearances or goals while playing for the team, or who made significant contributions to the sport either before they played for the team, or after they left. It is clearly not yet complete and all inclusive, and additions and refinements will continue to be made over time.See also All-time Atlanta Silverbacks roster
North American Soccer League
Champion (Season) (1): 2013 Spring
Runner-up (Playoffs) (1): 1995
USL First Division
Runner-up (Playoffs) (1): 2007
Southern Derby (4): 2002, 2004, 2005*, 2006