The Nashville Metros took it on the chin this past weekend with two close losses to A-League foes.
Coach Brett Mosen doesn't expect his side to stay down for long. After all, with tough matches looming in the Carolinas next weekend, they'll have to put a 3-2 home loss to the Richmond Kickers Friday night and a 2-1 road defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Silverbacks the next evening behind them quickly.
"It was a grueling weekend against two of the better teams in our division," Mosen said Sunday after returning from Georgia. "[Richmond] did exactly the same to us as we did to them. That sets up two more great games against them later this season.
"In the case of Atlanta, we had some opportunities that we didn't take advantage of. We look forward to facing Atlanta again with fresh legs ... instead of playing them the night after the kind of tough match we had against Richmond."
An enthusiastic Ezzell Park crowd of 2,511 saw the Metros mount a late comeback Friday night against Richmond (2-1, 9 points) only to see that upsurge cruelly crushed with an injury stoppage time goal by Kickers midfielder Marco Feruzzi. Nashville had trailed 2-1 late in the contest but equalized on an 86th minute free kick goal by forward Jeff Houser.
The match pitted two evenly matched teams - Nashville had beaten Richmond 2-1 in overtime April 20 - that each had 14 shots on goal.
The Metros scored first in the game's 16th minute on a long clearing pass from the front of the their goal by defender James Wall to forward Jakob Fenger. Fenger then booted the ball past Richmond goalkeeper Mike McGinty from 22 yards out.
The Kickers got on the scoreboard 12 minutes later when Wall got tangled up with Kickers attacker Rob Ukrop and was called for a foul inside the Metros box. Striker Kevin Jeffrey's penalty kick got past Nashville goalkeeper Cole Burgman into the bottom left corner of the net for the tying tally.
Richmond's next goal came early in the second half when Feruzzi served a long crossing pass from 40 yards out to the front of Nashville's goal. Ukrop deflected the ball past Burgman for a 2-1 Kickers advantage.
Nashville returned the favor in the 86th minute in front of Richmond's goal when Metros midfielder Jaymi Bailey was fouled during an attack and Houser put his free kick home. Houser blasted a boot that bent left around the wall of Kickers players in front of him and then turned right past McGinty for the goal.
"You won't see a better looking goal than the one Jeff scored against Richmond," Mosen said. "He's really contributed a lot to our season so far."
Richmond's winning score came on a quick break from midfield by Jeffrey. He worked the ball to Ukrop who found Feruzzi for a shot that ricocheted off the right post into the goal.
Saturday night the Metros went before 1,678 in Clarkson, Ga., to face the Silverbacks in their A-League opener. Nashville had hoped to cop its first franchise win in six tries against Atlanta, but a defensive error late in the first half and fatigue in the second worked against them. Pablo Peirano started the scoring in the game's 44th minute when he took a throw-in from Randy Merkel and blasted a quick shot past Burgman as the Metros defense laid back to cover other attackers.
"We made a bad mistake defensively," Mosen said. "We just failed to pick up the person who scored."
The fatigued Metros played tough defense in the second half, however, turning back several Atlanta scoring opportunities that Mosen said "showed the character this team has."
Atlanta finally broke through in the 80th minute when Peirano crossed a ball in front of Nashville's goal and Iggy Moleka headed it in for a 2-0 Silverbacks lead.
Wall answered for Nashville with a goal in the 85th minute when he took a pass from Chris Davies and put it into the back of the net. "James Wall has shown us so much this far in that it's expected he's going to perform well," Mosen said.
Mosen also praised his rookie goalkeeper, who had to weather 27 shots on goal while making 10 saves and surrendering 5 goals. "I thought he pulled out some great point-blank saves," the coach said. "When they really poured on the pressure in Atlanta he held up pretty well."
Atlanta's win gives them a virtual lock on the U.S. Open Cup qualifying group title after defeating both the Metros and the D-3 League's Greenville [S.C.] Lions in recent weeks. Nashville (1-2, four points) will play at Greenville (0-2 against Atlanta in their only games featuring A-League opponents so far this season) in qualifying group play next Sunday at 1 p.m. EDT. The game will follow an A-League away match with the newly formed Charlotte [N.C.] Eagles (1-2, five points) on Friday at 7 p.m. EDT. "Next weekend is also going to be tough for us. Those two teams are strong sides at home," Mosen said.
The Metros' next home game is May 18, against Atlanta starting at 7 p.m. Mosen hopes for another good-sized crowd to cheer his side on throughout the match.
"We need that, the team needs that," the coach said. "It's great to have the community behind us the way they've been."
For tickets or more information call 832-5678 or visit the team's web site at http://www.nashvillemetros.com.