The Charleston Battery provided another lesson to a young but quickly maturing Nashville Metros team on Saturday - you can't give gifts to a good team and expect to win.
Thankfully, the visitors didn't leave Ezell Park with a win, but the 2-2 double-overtime draw played before 1,632 fans certainly wasn't what Nashville (4-4-1, 19 points) was seeking after a hard and productive week of practice.
"The two goals to Charleston were giveaways I feel - we're not learning from our mistakes," said Metros coach Brett Mosen moments after the marathon contest had ended. "Still, I'm happy we didn't lose, but the points were there to be taken tonight. If I look at it result-wise, from 5-2 to 2-2 is a definite improvement, and the boys worked very hard in practice this week.
"I think everything we worked on during the week came out well tonight except for two silly mistakes."
Nashville's 5-2 loss at Charleston on May 26 - coupled with a 2-1 defeat to the Cincinnati Riverhawks June 2 - had lead to the soccer-training equivalent of soul-searching for the Metros side this past week in practice. Veteran Danny DeVall noticed a change in attitude from previous weeks.
"Everybody's playing a lot better. Last week, we went out thinking we couldn't be beat, and Cincinnati hurt us. We went into practices with a different attitude, and I think that showed in this game," the defender/midfielder said.
All of the game's scoring occurred in the first half. Gabe Valencia scored his first goal of the year in the game's eighth minute off an assist credited to Carl Schmitt, who suffered a possible fractured ankle later in the contest. The extent of his injury was unavailable at press time.
"It was a great cross off a great counterattack and I was in the right place at the right time," said Valencia, who has been battling injuries himself this season. "It would have felt better if we'd won. But maybe now I can score more goals and contribute more to the team."
Central Conference-leading Charleston (now 5-3-1 with 24 points) didn't equalize until the 43rd minute, and only then because of a Metros error.
Battery-keeper Dusty Hudock goal-kicked a ball into the Nashville half. Nashville defender Chris Morman attempted to flick the ball with his head back to Metros goalie Cole Burgman but sent the ball away from him instead. The loose ball skipped toward the goal post with Morman, Burgman and league-leading scorer Paul Conway all running toward it. The Charleston striker was able to poke it into the goal for his tenth score of the season to even the match at 1-1.
The Battery got another goal two minutes later when forward Jon Akin made a run down the right side at Nashville defender James Wall. He beat Wall and faked a run at the goal from about 25 yards out. Akin left the ball behind him for the trailing Velko Iotov, who launched a shot from 20 yards away that beat Burgman to the far post.
"We should have won. We made two stupid mistakes in the back, and they penalized us for it," was forward Jakob Fenger's assessment of the two late-half goals for Charleston. Thankfully for Nashville, they had an answer before halftime.
With roughly a minute remaining in stoppage time after the half's 45 minutes were up, Jaymi Bailey was able to put the ball past Hudock from 14 yards out following a kick-around in front of the Charleston goal. "I played it into (Fenger), who played it into (Jeff) Houser, who then flicked it on to me in the box and I finished it. It felt nice," the midfielder said.
Both teams had several scoring opportunities the rest of the way but failed to capitalize. The most dramatic missed opportunity came in the 82nd minute, when Fenger was unable to put the ball into an open net on a breakaway. "I saw the goalkeeper was out of the net and I wanted to chip him, because I've had some success doing that in the past. I just had a terrible touch. I'm going to dream about that one tonight," Fenger said.
What made Nashville more competitive against Charleston this time? Well, the right attitude helped, but a new formation that played to the team's strengths was part of the equation as well. The Metros changed from the 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 formation for Saturday's match.
"I just think that we've got players who've got the ability to cause others trouble playing out wide. We've spent so much time looking inside that we've neglected what our quality is," Mosen said of the change in strategy. "We've gone back to four across the middle, just wing the ball in there and go to our quality players.
"It's nice to see Gabe Valencia get on the score sheet tonight. It's a confidence booster for him and for Jaymi Bailey as well. We had two wide midfield players who we were trying to get involved in the game, and both of them scored, so that's a plus."
Next on the agenda is a trip to Virginia to play the Richmond Kickers next Saturday. The game begins at 6 p.m. CDT and will be textcast on the Metros Web site. Nashville's next home game will be June 24 at 5 p.m. against the Indiana Blast.
"Well, you've got to be optimistic. It's a long season and we didn't lose. We gave up a couple of dumb goals, but we've just got to go on and win next weekend. We played well against them before (a 2-1 home opener win on April 20) and I think if we go over there and play our game, we'll win," Valencia said.
TEXTCASTS AND INFO: www.nashvillemetros.com
Nashville at Richmond
Saturday, 6:00 p.m.