It's true most of the 2001 Nashville Metros regulars will be off the pitch Saturday when the team travels to South Carolina for its regular season finale against the Charleston Battery.
But hey, there's a precedent for this sort of things that goes way back. If Hercules could rest from his labors, why not some guys who've clinched an A-League playoff berth by winning 14 games, including nine of their last twelve contests and four straight for the second time this season?
There's more than generosity of spirit or a desire to award hard work which has led head coach Brett Mosen to decide it's time to rest his key players, though. He wants to be in the playoffs for the long haul, not just one round, and that means giving his usual starters some R&R so they'll be fresh for the first round that runs Sept. 12-16.
The list of those taking a breather includes forwards Jeff Houser and Jakob Fenger, who each have 14 goals on the year; midfielder Jaymi Bailey, who leads the league with 11 assists; defender James Wall, this week named to the A-League Team of the Week for the fourth time in 2001; midfielder and team captain Steve Kraemer; and tenacious defenders Carl Schmitt and Chris Morman.
"I think we need to look at the big picture instead of focusing on the glory of a result at Charleston this weekend," Mosen said. "If we get to play at home, I want our guys to be fresh if we have to go on Wednesday and then travel to our opponent's place for a game on Saturday."
While it looks probable that Nashville (14-9-2, 63 points) might play either the Western Conference's Portland Timbers or Seattle Sounders in the first round, berths won't be determined until this weekend's slate of matches is completed. If a West Coast trip is necessary, though, it's not hard to see why Mosen would want his squad to be as rested as possible before the first round begins.
All but the A-League finals are played with an aggregate-goal system determining the winner. The teams play one game each at home, with the higher seed choosing the order of the game sites. The team that totals the most goals over the two contests moves on to the next round while the other squad is eliminated. If the goal totals for each team are the same after two regulation games, up to two "golden-goal" (sudden-death) 25-minute overtimes would be played to determine a winner. If neither side scored during the first or second overtime, then a penalty-kick shootout would decide who goes on and who goes home.
While the outcome at Blackbaud Stadium may have little if any impact on Nashville's seeding, it probably will have a greater postseason impact on Charleston (15-9-1, 68 points). The Battery saw their chances of catching the Richmond Kickers (15-6-3, 70 points) severely hampered by a 1-0 road loss to the Atlanta Silverbacks Wednesday night. Richmond gets away matches against the lowly Indiana Blast (8-17, 35 points) on Friday and the cellar-dwelling Cincinnati Riverhawks (5-20, 22 points) on Saturday, so the Kickers may wrap up the conference crown the night before Charleston plays its home finale. The Battery's chance for a first-round bye as the league's top second-place team may have gone by the boards with the loss to Atlanta, so the best way for them to avoid initial-round play would be the longshot route of copping the Central's top spot with a win and help from two teams at the bottom of conference standings.
The Metros are currently third in the conference, five points behind the Battery but just two ahead of the Charlotte Eagles (13-10-2, 61 points), who host Atlanta on Saturday to conclude their regular-season slate. The top three teams from each of the league's three conferences plus three teams decided by standings points or various tiebreakers will fill the league's 12 playoff spots.
The Battery is the only Central Conference team that the Metros haven't defeated this year. Nashville lost 5-2 at Blackbaud on May 26 when league-leading scorer Paul Conway had three of his 21 goals this season in the first half. They played one of their tougher matches of the 2001 schedule while tying Charleston 2-2 on June 9 at Ezell Park. The Metros were beaten 3-0 at home Aug. 4 in the most recent meeting between the two sides. This week's league ratings had the Battery ranked second in offense and sixth in defense. They have the second-best home record (10-2) in the A-League, just behind the Rochester Raging Rhinos ahead of the Metros' 9-3-1 mark at Ezell.
The Nashville-Charleston match starts at 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday and can be followed via live textcast on the Metros web site (www.nashvillemetros.com).
Nashville at Charleston
Saturday, 6:30 p.m.