It's on to Wisconsin down a goal as the Nashville Metros were nipped 3-2 by the Milwaukee Rampage in the opening game of the A-League first-round playoffs last night.
Nashville must win Saturday at Milwaukee County Sports Complex by at least two goals to advance to the quarterfinals against the Richmond Kickers next week. Kickoff is 3 p.m. CT and the game will be textcast on the Metros' web site (www.nashvillemetros.com ).
Jaymi Bailey's last-second free-kick goal in stoppage time gave the home team a boost before 810 waterlogged spectators at Ezell Park. The score was important since the series with Milwaukee will be decided by goal differential.
"I knew it was now or never. I had to score," the midfielder said of his high hooking shot just before the final whistle. "We're certainly not out of it by any means. If we just go up to Milwaukee and play our game, I'm confident we can do it and go through to meet Richmond."
"It's thrown us a lifeline. It would have been tough to go up there down two goals. If there's a positive out of this game, it's that we ended on a high," Metros coach Brett Mosen said. "We didn't play particularly well, but we had to adapt to what the conditions were, and I think we did that. It's not over yet. We're confident. We have to win by two and I think we can do that. There's a lot to play for yet."
The Rampage got two goals from forward Steve Butcher and a 40-yard rocket shot from Igor Soso, while the Metros' other score came from striker Jakob Fenger.
"I guess this is like halftime, with the next 90-minute half on our field. The field conditions tonight were sloppy, and that affected both teams," Butcher said. "We'd have been happy with a tie, but we're certainly in a good spot going home ahead. Now we just have to take care of business."
"I thought clearly that we were the better side, because we could have put the game away when we had a three-on-one breakaway against the goalkeeper (in the second half). If we score there, it's 4-1 and all over," Rampage coach Boro Sucevic said. "I didn't think it was a very good game. Maybe the layoff had something to do with that. It was a very sloppy game, probably because of the weather, and there were a lot of fouls, but we won and we can go home happy because of that. It's the playoffs, so we expect another physical game Saturday, but it's good to go home one goal up."
Ezell's pitch quickly became a muddy quagmire following hard showers that stopped just minutes before kickoff. Nashville still managed to fire a team-record 24 shots at Milwaukee goalkeeper Dan Popik (the previous mark was 18). Popik made eight saves, as did Metros goalie Cole Burgman, who faced 18 shots from the visitors.
The only first-half goal came in the 30th minute. Milwaukee midfielder David Hayes gained control in the Metros penalty box and launched a shot that ricocheted off several players and was knocked into goal off Metros defender Chris Morman by an opportunistic Butcher.
The Rampage took advantage first in the 61st minute when forward Digital Takawira crossed a ball into the left side of the Metros box for Butcher, who launched an angled shot from 10 yards away directly at Burgman. The ball slid off the keeper's hands and past him into the net to make it 2-0 Milwaukee.
Nashville wasn't ready to play dead, however. In the 82nd minute midfielder Gabe Valencia's crossing pass found the head of defender James Wall. Wall's shot went to Fenger, who trapped the ball and blasted it by Popik to put the home team on the board.
Milwaukee answered just a minute later when Soso booted a shot from the left side that made it just over Burgman's head into the far corner.
"I think Igor is the newcomer of the year in this league," Sucevic said. "That was a world-class goal, and we've seen him do that before."
Nashville closed the scoring seconds before the end of four minutes' stoppage time when Fenger was taken down just outside the Rampage penalty area by a Milwaukee defender. That set up Bailey's dramatic score.
"We know it's a tough game up there, but we can definitely do it. Now everyone knows what we're facing, and sometimes we've played better under that kind of pressure," Fenger said.
Nashville at Milwaukee
Saturday, 3:00 p.m.