Like Kennedy and Kruschev, it'll come down to who blinks first when the cold war of the Central Conference heats up tonight between the Nashville Metros and the Atlanta Silverbacks.
"We all know how important this game is to us, and I'm sure it's important to Atlanta as well," coach Brett Mosen said last week when asked about the 7 p.m. clash at Ezell Park. "But if we take care of our game, as I've said before, we feel we can compete with anybody. They're a different team from the one we faced earlier this year, but in some ways we are too.
"We respect them, but we don't fear them."
They've got the Willie B. Cup at Ezell to prove it. That prize came after back-to-back wins over the Silverbacks in May that allowed Nashville instead of Atlanta to go to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup national soccer tournament. Those defeats certainly give the visitors (10-7-1, 45 points) some motivation as they seek to take the teams' final meeting of the 2001 season.
The wins were a fresh start for Nashville, which had lost six straight to Atlanta since the Silverbacks joined the A-League in 1999. The cup goes to the winner of a weekend series between the teams each year and was named for Willie B., a silverback gorilla who was a popular attraction at Zoo Atlanta until his death two years ago.
The Metros (9-7-2, 42 points) certainly have their own motivation, and it's not just the desire to augment the three-game home-winning streak they're currently enjoying (it's also the franchise's longest winning streak since July 1999). Atlanta is third in the conference behind the Richmond Kickers and Charleston Battery while Nashville is presently fourth. The top three teams in each of the three A-League conferences get automatic bids for the playoffs in September.
That playoff slot is certainly motivation enough for the Metros players.
"This is for our season," forward Jeff Houser said. "This is for the playoffs. If we lose, that may be it for our chances."
"We've got some other games to play after that, including the one against Charleston next Saturday," midfielder Jaymi Bailey said. "But there's no doubt that this game matters a lot to us. And I'm sure it's important to them, too."
The Silverbacks are presently in the midst of a winning streak as well - they've captured six straight victories. The seeds of their recent success may well be found in their May collapse against Nashville, because Atlanta coach John Dugan quickly cleaned house and reformed a club that seemed to be going nowhere but down earlier this season.
Dugan released five veteran players - Ivo Ilarianov, Stilian Shishkov, Peter Byaruhanga, Rivers Guthrie, and Keith Beach. He also traded team captain Steve Armas to the Minnesota Thunder in a three-player deal that brought him defender Carlos Parra from the Rochester Raging Rhinos.
Parra was joined by defender Shaun McSkimming and Paul Schneider, Minnesota's number-two scorer from last year. Schneider was at first a smashing success