It's been another introspective week at Ezell Park as the Nashville Metros prepared for two crucial Central Conference clashes this weekend.
They'll play the homestanding Cincinnati Riverhawks today on Kings Mill, Ohio's Galbreath Field at 6:30 p.m. CT before returning home for a 7 p.m. Saturday tussle with the Indiana Blast.
With their 4-0 loss last Saturday to the Milwaukee Rampage, it's now or never for Nashville (10-9-2, 46 points) as they seek to make the A-League's postseason tourney. They're currently fourth in the Central
Conference, three points behind the Charlotte Eagles and four points behind the Atlanta Silverbacks.
The Riverhawks (4-16, 18 points) may be in the conference cellar, but they beat Nashville 2-1 the last time the Metros ventured up to Ohio.
Nashville coach Brett Mosen hopes his team plays more like it did on July 29, when the Metros beat Cincy 5-2 at Ezell.
"This week we had another week of 'soul searching,'" said Mosen, who held a private meeting with some of his senior players in an effort refocus a team that's lost its last two games by a combined score of 7-0 (including a 3-0 loss Aug. 4 to the Charleston Battery). "It's at this stage of the season where they need to step up their game, lead by example and help our less experienced players through what I believe is the most strenuous part of our season. The boys have responded well in training and everyone in the squad is prepared to battle for a place in the playoffs."
Mosen has also reminded his men not to forget Sports Rule No. 1: Don't look past the next game. "We will take each game as it comes and that starts (tonight) against Cincinnati," he said. "We know it is important to get no less than four points (for a win) there, then comes Indiana on Saturday, but until the final whistle blows in Ohio our thoughts will be on Cincinnati only."
Nashville would currently make the playoffs as the ninth seed, and take on the Hershey Wildcats in a home-and-home, aggregate goal series in the first round. That assumes the standings stay the same, however, and with five games left including tonight, that assumption is one Mosen and his side know falls under the longshot category.
There's also the matter of returning to offensive form after being shut out the last two weekends. The 4-0 loss to the Rampage is a particularly fresh wound that the Metros are keen to close, and Mosen knows what the cure would be. "It's amazing how eight points can quickly help you forget a tough road trip to Milwaukee and that is what we are out to achieve this weekend," he said. "It will not only erase last weekend, but it will also put us in a very strong position for a playoff berth."
The Riverhawks have lost 10 in a row - their last win was a 2-1 victory July 6 over Atlanta. Forward Teodor Matis has five goals and two assists to lead offensive production, but that's been more than offset by the league-leading 65 goals Cincinnati's defense has given up.
Metros forward Jakob Fenger may be the key to Nashville's chances tonight. He's scored four goals in the two meetings between the teams, including a hat trick in the July 29 contest. Fenger is currently second in A-League scoring standings with 29 points (13 goals, three assists) behind Charleston forward Paul Conway's 39 points (18 goals, three assists). His colleague Jeff Houser (11 goals, four assists, 26 points) is tied for third place with Richmond Kickers forward Kevin Jeffrey and Milwaukee forward Digital Takawira. On defense, the Metros will apparently be without the services of veteran defender James Wall, who is recovering from a sprained ankle and was listed as questionable for this weekend's games by team officials.
Cincinnati is 3-6 at home this season while Nashville is 3-6-1 on the road.
Twenty-four hours later, Indiana (8-13, 35 points) comes to Nashville after a Friday match at Atlanta. Both sides will be tired, but both will obviously be motivated by the thought of keeping their playoff hopes alive. Nashville last played the Blast at home on June 24, scoring a 3-0 triumph that included two goals from forward Gabe Valencia. Indiana then blanked the Metros 2-0 five days later in Indianapolis behind goals from forward Rodrigo Costa.
The Blast have lost three straight and five of their last six going into tonight's match with the Silverbacks. They led 2-0 in the second half against Charlotte last weekend before giving up three second-half goals to lose 3-2.
On offense, Costa has 10 goals and two assists to lead the way for the Blast. Fellow forward Andrew McDermott has seven goals and two assists on the year. Goalkeeper David Winner has four shutouts in 2001, but defensive play for Indiana's backline has been inconsistent for much of the season.
The Metros have a commanding 7-3-1 home record while Indiana is 2-9 on the road. The two teams meet again on Saturday, Aug. 25, in Indianapolis' Kuntz Memorial Soccer Stadium at 6:35 p.m. CT. Nashville's last home game is at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1 against Charlotte before they end the regular season in South Carolina on Sept. 8 in a 6:30 p.m. CT match at Blackbaud Stadium against Charleston.
Nashville at Cincinnati
Tonight, 6:30 p.m.
Nashville vs. Indiana
Saturday, 7:00 p.m.