Soul-searching has become a staple at Ezell Park these days.
Nashville Metros players and head coach Brett Mosen hope a five-game home stand that begins tonight at 7 with the Connecticut Wolves can lead to less introspection. The playoffs are less than two months away, and the fifth-place Metros (6-7-2, 29 points) want to climb back to third in the Central Conference so they can join the A-League's Big Dance in September.
"Basically we're just looking at getting the season back on track," midfielder Chris Davies said. "If we can get wins out of these next few home games, we'll be back up there in the top three again. And that'll put us where we want to be - in the playoffs."
"All of a sudden, we've taken a step backwards and now we've got to find our game again. At the moment, silly individual mistakes are costing us dearly," Mosen said. "Right now, we're trying to emphasize to the players that they should go back to basics, keep it simple and our game will come back."
Nashville beat the Charlotte Eagles 2-1 last Friday on an overtime free kick by forward Jeff Houser, who was honored this week with his second A-League Team of the Week appearance in the 2001 campaign. The positive result against Charlotte came in a game where the Metros allowed several scoring chances that the Eagles didn't cash in. Two days later, however, the Minnesota Thunder did hit pay dirt in a 3-2 win by scoring all of its goals in the game's last 11 minutes after Nashville had taken a 2-0 advantage on first-half Houser kicks.
"They get their tails up, they're blazing and you're just hanging on," said defender James Wall as he acknowledged the old axiom that a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous one in soccer. "I think we were too relaxed around the goal, thinking it was too easy, and you just can't do that. You have to take every chance with 100 percent concentration and 100 percent effort. We didn't and we learned our lesson the hard way. We need to apply what we learned this Friday."
What happened to cause the late breakdown in Blaine (Minn.)? "I think for the last 10 minutes we just switched off. I think the key work is resilience. We didn't have enough resilience," Wall said. "When we went 2-1, I didn't think from 1 to 11 that anybody showed enough heart or desire to ride the storm out. If you want to get into the playoffs, you've got to ride storms out every game.
"Opposing teams are always going to have a good 10-15 minute period, and if you're not going to be strong enough to withstand it, you shouldn't play the game. We're a young team, we're learning, and it was a huge lesson, the biggest lesson of the season I think.
"We spoke about it all throughout the week. It's been on our minds night and day really. We've been losing sleep over that game."
"A lot of what went on in the last 10 minutes at Minnesota was immaturity," Mosen said. "We've lacked experience with this side and hopefully we learned our lesson.
"Passion and desire are what's needed. You can't coach heart. It has to come from within. We had it at the beginning of the season. We need to get back to that. No one wanted to play us then because we were shutting people down."
Davies noted the silver lining to the dark cloud hovering over the Metros recently. "We've got the worst defensive team in the league at the moment, but basically the best offensive team as well. If we can just tighten up in the back we'll be fine," he said.
They'll have to be against Coach Daniel Gaspar's Northern Conference-leading Wolves (8-3-5, 38 points). Connecticut has turned things around after a dismal 1-19-8 mark in 2000. It is true that they haven't beaten a team with a winning record, but Nashville is one game below .500 so that statistic doesn't apply.
"From what I've heard they've got some very good individual players," Mosen said. "The one player who hurt us last year when he played at Atlanta (Silverbacks) was (forward) Patrick Beech (two goals and one assist this year). He's a quality player. You give him the space and he'll score. We've got to make sure we shut him down early."
Wolves midfielder Temoc Suarez has five goals and three assists on the season while fellow midfielder Winston Griffiths is four and four in those departments respectively. Rookie forward Paul Oyuga has three goals to go with one assist so far this season, according to team records.
Connecticut goalkeeper Adam Throop has already played over 1,200 minutes this year while only allowing an impressive 0.89 goals per game average to go with a 7-3-3 record in the box.
"They look like a team of very, very good individuals where any player can win the game for them. Our defense will be tested severely, because by all accounts they're very good," Wall said. "It's a total turnaround from last year. Now they're firing on all cylinders. It's going to be one of our hardest games of the season."
It's going to be a tough game against a good side. Their record proves that. But before we worry too much about what the other team is doing, we need to put our own game right," Mosen said. "Until we put our own game right, we can't afford to spend much time worrying about the other team.
"When we play well, I think we can beat any team in this league. When we don't play well, we get hammered by these teams. That's why we have to focus more on our game than on what Connecticut may do against us."
Forward Gabe Valencia sustained an ankle injury in the Minnesota contest and will probably be out for the next three weeks, according to Mosen. Midfielder Dominic Schell suffered a concussion in that game and will be unavailable for tonight's match-up. Mosen said he expects Schell will return to action when Nashville hosts the Long Island Roughriders next Friday at 7 p.m. Rookie goalie Cole Burgman is once again handling back-up duties for the Major League Soccer's Dallas Burn, so keeper Eric Sims (1-1, 1.459 goals-against-average) will man the posts for Nashville.
Webcasts or Info: www.nashvillemetros.com