Maybe it was the humidity of a Southern summer night that wilted the Connecticut Wolves from New England. Maybe it was Nashville coach Brett Mosen ditching his white dress shirt and Nashville Metros tie for a blue warm-up outfit.
Maybe it was paying tribute to temporarily fallen comrade Dominic Schell with a splendid second-half effort. Maybe it was the memory of a 2-0 lead against the Minnesota Thunder that became a 3-2 loss in the last 11 minutes of the match five days earlier.
Or maybe it was a sterling second-half effort forged from a tough week of practice and a first half of frustration. Whatever it was, it gave the Metros a 2-1 comeback win last Friday night before 1,370 jubilant fans at Ezell Park.
"I'm very proud of them. It was a scrappy win. It wasn't pretty, but they showed great character by battling back from one down," Mosen said. "On a hot, humid night like tonight, full credit to them for getting it done. They've worked hard all week in practice and it paid off.
"Connecticut has a quality side and they played well the first half. We made some adjustments in the second half and I felt we deserved it because of our second-half play. It was a game of two halves. They were better in the first half; we were better in the second. We both had our opportunities, and thankfully we were able to tuck ours away."
"Last week, our inexperience led us to give up three goals. We also got two players injured, including Dominic, whose injury was more serious than first thought. Today, it felt great to get the win. It was a great team effort," said forward Jakob Fenger, who booted the game winner to end a scoring drought and notch his eighth score of the season.
"It was what I'd talked about earlier in the week - resilience," defender James Wall said. "We showed some tonight in the second half. Some of us didn't feel too well today. I felt dehydrated even in warm-ups. I think Jeff Houser and Nick Glaser felt the same. But it was just grit and determination to not only get through the game, but win it."
"That Minnesota game was in the back of our minds. We didn't want to lose this game," defender Chris Morman said. "We weren't aggressive enough at first, but the guys came out in the second half and got it going with a lot of effort.
"That's how it works sometimes. You don't always play your best, but with 100-percent effort, you can pull it out like we did tonight."
The victory moves the Metros (7-7-2, 33 points) back into fourth place in the Central Conference, seven points behind the third-place Atlanta Silverbacks. The Silverbacks got a bonus point Saturday night after their home match with the Wolves (now second in the Northern Conference at 8-4-6 with 39 points) ended in a 0-0 deadlock. The Indiana Blast, who were 3-2 road-losers Saturday to the Charlotte Eagles, are now fifth.
The loss to Minnesota had been both psychologically and physically traumatic for Nashville. Forward Gabe Valencia had injured his ankle and was out for at least a week, while midfielder Schell apparently had a concussion. Schell's injury turned out to be more serious than that, however, and Friday night he underwent an operation to repair bone and ligament damage around an eye. Team officials said the surgery was successful and that it's possible Schell will return to play before the regular season ends in September.
"We only found out about that when we got to the grounds tonight," Wall said. "We were all very shocked because we just thought it was a concussion and he'd be back next week. It's devastating for us. When he plays, it gives us an extra dimension. When he comes in, it gives us an extra spark of energy."
"That was weighing a lot on our minds," defender Russell Cain said. "It's hard to come and play a game when you know somebody on your team is in a condition like that. I think it lifted the team up and we played a little harder for him."
Rookie goalkeeper Cole Burgman was also missing. He was spending his second week of training with Major League Soccer's Dallas Burn, so veteran goalie Eric Sims anchored the Metros defense. Sims certainly earned his pay against Connecticut, taking 21 shots and making four saves.
Much of Sims' work in the first half revolved around weathering the barrage from midfielder Temoc Suarez, who pounded several shots in his direction. One came in the 26th minute from 15 yards out, and it gave the Wolves a 1-0 lead.
"I hope we never see him again," Mosen said with a wry laugh when asked about Suarez's efforts. "What a quality player. On the board in our changing room we had it down that he was the man we needed to stop, and in the first half we didn't stop him. If you let somebody like that play, he can destroy you, and he nearly did in the first half. In the second half we were able to contain him as best as possible, though."
It was indeed a different game in the second half, although it took an "excuse-me" equalizer from midfielder Jaymi Bailey in the 69th minute to turn the tide. Bailey was trying to pass to a teammate near the goal, but his shot found the body of Connecticut defender Tony Soto instead. It bounced off Soto and past stunned keeper Adam Throop to even the score at 1-1.
"I got the ball wide like I normally do, and I touched it inside. I think the other team thought I was going to cross it. I was going to shoot it and then I saw (Metros defender) Carl Schmitt near the far post. I went to clip it to him, but got a good deflection and it went into the goal," Bailey said.
Mr. Momentum had decided to pay the Metros a visit.
"It took us awhile to get going," Sims said. "After our first goal, I think their heads went down, whereas in the first half I thought they had us. When we were in the locker room at halftime, it looked like nobody felt we were going to win. When we scored, though, it was like, 'See, I told you we could win this.' It really turned things around."
The turnaround became complete in the 84th minute, after substitute forward Brandon Wright took a pass from midfield at the top of the Wolves' penalty arc. He then passed off to Schmitt and made a run to the near post, which seemingly fooled the Connecticut defense. Fenger slipped into the center, took a touch from Schmitt and sent the ball careening toward the back of the net for the winner.
"Carl got the ball on the left side, he played it into me and I took the touch," said Fenger matter-of-factly about the play. "I was just lucky to get good toe on it.
"Hopefully this will give me the edge to get me back into scoring some goals."
The win seemed to lift the players