Friday's match between the Nashville Metros and Charlotte Eagles was one Charles Dickens could have written about.
It was the best of goals; it was the worst of goals. It was the age of players; it was the (aging) of coaches. It was the epoch of a golden goal; it was the epoch of a missed penalty kick. It was the season of wins; it was the season of losses.
OK, everybody gets the point. Metros coach Brett Mosen was just relieved his team got four of them after a 2-1-overtime victory before 1,180 fans at Ezell Park.
"I'm getting grayer by the minute watching this," Mosen said moments after forward Jeff Houser's 94th-minute free kick had nestled into the net for Nashville. "Obviously, it was our worst performance so far. I'm delighted it's over and that we got the four points. It wasn't a good game to watch. I didn't enjoy watching it."
The victory by Nashville improved its record to 6-6-2 with 29 points. It put them into fourth place in the A-League's Central Conference standings, just a point behind the Atlanta Silverbacks and two ahead of the Indiana Blast. Atlanta defeated the Metros' Sunday opponent, the Minnesota Thunder, by a 2-0 score Friday night in Minneapolis while Indiana bested the Cincinnati Riverhawks 2-1 in Ohio that same evening.
"Charlotte played well, particularly in the first half, and we were lucky with the shots they missed that they didn't get three or four up early. Luck was on our side tonight. Near the end we had a few chances, but we just looked a little tired tonight, though I don't know why. I'm just glad this one's out of the way.
"I guess Jeff Houser strikes against Charlotte again, so it's nice for him."
Houser had the franchise's first-ever hat trick in a 4-2 win at Charlotte May 11. His sudden death "golden goal" came after forward Jakob Fenger was fouled just in front of the Eagles' penalty area by Charlotte defender Kevin O'Brien.
"Well, when the foul was called, I stepped up to the ball and said I wanted to take it," said Houser, who has seven goals on the season. "I'd been making them in practice, and it was definitely a spot in which I was comfortable. I saw their keeper line up way to his right, and I just tried to put it on target.
"I don't know what it is about their team, but I wish we could keep playing them because I just seem to score when we do. I've been trying to get into it and get my scoring touch back. Our team's been struggling lately so we're just trying to get back into scoring as much as possible."
The Metros had been shut out their last two games, and didn't score until defender Carl Schmitt's head and chest conspired to put a ball in goal off a Jaymi Bailey assist in the 57th minute of the contest. That gave them a dubious all-time team record of 241 minutes without a score.
"Jaymi just played a great ball in and I just tried to get on the end of it," Schmitt said. "At the last second, the keeper hit it, and that's why I tried to head it. It just went off my head and my chest before going in. I wanted to make sure no matter what that it went in.
"We really didn't play that well tonight until the second half. We needed a little confidence in front of the net, and we got that hopefully. It wasn't pretty tonight, but we got the job done."
The Eagles (6-7, 25 points) got on the board first in the game's 52nd minute when midfielder Mark Pinch played a ball ahead to forward Jose Gomez. Gomez broke past the Metros defense and lofted a soft shot over goalkeeper Eric Sims for a goal.
Nashville was probably lucky it wasn't 5-0 at that point, however. The Eagles had several first-half scoring chances as two shots caromed off the crossbar, two were barely tipped over the crossbar by Sims, and Charlotte midfielder Nathan Watkins missed a penalty kick.
"In brutal honesty, we were lucky to win the game. They hit the post three times in the first half as well as missing the penalty (kick). But that was the first half. In the second half it was a completely different game," team captain Steve Kraemer said.
"I was trying to get a touch early, but I didn't want that many," said Sims, who took 17 shots and made three saves while only giving up one goal. "I had to get the jitters out early. I settled in and was fortunate on a few. The post helped me out a few times. Getting the W is a big boost for my confidence as well as for my teammates' confidence.
"It took awhile for us to settle down. And changing from the 3-5-2 to the 4-4-2 helped. I think that's our strength at wing with players like Jaymi and Carl."
Defender James Wall also credited the formation shift made at halftime by Mosen as being key to Nashville's comeback in the match. "We just didn't start well. They were all over us. You can't give away those chances, and we were so lucky to go in to halftime nil-nil," he said.
"Coach Mosen changed our formation to 4-4-2 at halftime, and we were a completely different team. We were the one hitting the woodwork, we were the one making things happen.
"It's the best formation as far as I'm concerned. It's simple, and we did the simple things we needed to do to get back into the match and win it."
The Metros had little time to savor their win as they hit the road for last night's match against Minnesota (who were 3-12-1 with 14 points coming into the game). The result of that contest was unavailable at press time.
When the squad returns home it will start preparing for Friday's 7 p.m. game against the Northern Conference-leading Connecticut Wolves (8-3-4, 37 points). Mosen and his players know the Wolves won't be easy prey.
"That's going to be a tough game. They're playing very well right now. Every game's a tough game for us right now, because we're not playing up to our full potential," the coach said. "As we started the season, it was play the way we want to play and let everybody else worry about us. Suddenly it became let's worry about ourselves, so we've got to right ourselves and get our confidence back. Connecticut won't be any pushover, but hopefully we can provide a good game for our fans."
"When I knew I was coming over to America, I spoke to Connecticut about the possibility of playing there, but I looked at their record and thought, 'Only one win all year, I definitely don't want to go there.' I thought their franchise would struggle again. But they've turned it around completely and now they're winning the Northern Conference," Wall said. "They work hard and play hard and it's going to be a tough game for us when we come home.
"We can't play like we did against Charlotte in the first half because they're a better team than Charlotte and they will punish us. It will be just as hard as (the) Richmond (Kickers) and just as hard as (the) Charleston (Battery) so we'd better be ready for them."
PLAYERS COME AND GO
Forward Gabe Valencia was glad to be back with Nashville Friday night after his week of training with Major League Soccer's Dallas Burn. "It was hot," Valencia said when first asked about his week. "It was a good experience. I think I fit in well and did a pretty good job while I was there. I was more enthused to play this game because we got the points we needed. I wanted to show them what I had and I think I did, but I was more interested in coming back here to get a win and then hopefully go on to Minnesota and do the same thing."
Wall was also a returnee after traveling to Cancun, Mexico, the week before so that he could renew his visa. The defender is a citizen of the United Kingdom. "I missed the football. I got my visa, did what I had to do, but I'm sorry I missed the big game with Richmond (a 2-0 home loss on July 6). I'm glad to be back here."
Sims was in goal for Nashville Friday night because rookie keeper Cole Burgman had been temporarily called up by the Burn. He sat on the bench as a backup for Dallas' goalie Matt Jordan and watched the Burn blow a 2-0 lead in the second half for a 3-2 loss to the home-standing Kansas City Wizards Saturday evening. Burgman was set to rejoin the Metros at Blaine, Minn., for Sunday's contest with the Thunder.
Midfielder/defender Seth Trembly, 20, was on loan from the MLS' Colorado Rapids for the game against Minnesota. Trembly, a native of Littleton, Colo., has logged 198 minutes in four games this season with the Rapids.
The Metros announced Friday that they had signed veteran midfielder/defender Andreas Maier. Maier, 29, is a native of Queens, N.Y., and a former Hampton Roads Mariner who has been playing with a first division club in Switzerland. "Andreas can play either center midfield or central defender. His experience will be very valuable to our young side at this stage of the season," Mosen said in a prepared statement.