Four straight battles have been won. But, the war is far from over for the Nashville Metros. The Charleston Battery is in town for a 7 p.m. clash at Ezell Park tomorrow. If they win, the Battery (11-6-1, 50 points) will solidify their hold on second place in the A-League's Central Conference.
If Nashville (10-7-2, 46 points) triumphs, they will either tie or move ahead of the visitors in the slot, behind the conference-leading Richmond Kickers (12-4-2, 55 points).
The Metros don't play Richmond again this season, but they have two shots at the Battery in the seven games that remain before the playoffs: tomorrow's game and a Sept. 8 contest at Charleston that concludes the regular season schedule.
A must win. Aren't they all?
"Pretty much every game is a must win if we want to make the playoffs," said forward Jeff Houser after scoring his 11th goal of the season in a 1-0 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks Wednesday night.
"That was a big win for us against Atlanta. It got us into third, and now we're four points off Charleston and looking at second. "Saturday night is going to be a battle."
Fellow warrior James Wall knows he and the other boys in the back will have to be ready for Charleston, who shellacked the Metros 5-2 on May 26 in South Carolina before a 2-2 overtime deadlock at Ezell on June 9.
"I feel they're the best team in our conference, man for man, player for player. We can't rest on our laurels because it's quite a test," the veteran defender said. "We've set a standard on defense now, and we need to work hard to keep it up, especially against Charleston with Paul Conway (the A-League's leading scorer with 16 goals) up front. He's the best striker we'll face in the league."
Coach Brett Mosen feels his side has changed for the better since the first two meetings with the Battery.
"I think we've got a little bit of stability at the back right now," he said. "And Andreas (Maier) and Nacho (Jeff Dominguez) have really tied-up our midfield. There's a battle for places and players now. If they get out, it may be hard to get back into the starting line-up. Our bench is strong, we're subbing quality for quality.
"And we're on a roll right now, on a high. It's a real challenge for us against Charleston, but we're more solid now, more of a unit than we were earlier in the season. Things are coming together at the right time."
That was evident in the win over the Silverbacks (10-8-1, 45 points), which put Nashville back into third place in the conference. The Metros scored early and made that goal hold up with sterling defensive play before 1,370 fans to end Atlanta's six-game winning streak.
Houser's goal in the 13th minute came off a brilliant steal by defender Danny DeVall, who came in hard on an Atlanta player holding the ball in the center circle with a slide tackle. DeVall got to his feet quickly and played a pass ahead to Houser on the right side about 35 yards from the goal. He then put it past Silverbacks goalie Kevin Rueda to the far post for the game's only score.
"Danny worked hard to win the ball. He got a touch to me, and I just turned and hit the shot low into the corner," Houser explained. "Their keeper was big, so we wanted to keep the shots down, and that's how I played it."
From there, the defense took over. Defender Chris Morman made several excellent plays to keep Atlanta shots from finding their mark and was named Player of the Game. "It was one of those tough games. We were fighting for third place, and knew we had to play our best to pull out the win, so that's what we did," he said.
Fellow backliner Wall was proud of what he and his teammates accomplished. "I think it's our best effort all season," he said. "Chris Morman was brilliant, Steve Kraemer played his role in the back to a tee, and Danny DeVall was there tonight as he is every week.
"But I also think that everyone, one to eleven, defended well in this game. Jeff Houser and Jakob Fenger started off defending in the front, and everyone else followed suit in the midfield and in the back. This was a hard-earned win that I think shows how much character we've got on this team."
"We scored a goal, but I want to give credit to the defenders. They played an outstanding game, Chris Morman, James, all of them," midfielder Jaymi Bailey said in returning the compliment. "The guys in the back were unbelievable."
Does Mosen agree? "Without a doubt. They were just absolutely solid on defense. As with the last time we played them (2-1 and 3-1 wins on May 18 and 19), they just can't find a way around us.
"We got a bit of luck with a post late in the game (when Ihor Dotsenko's rocket clanged off the left post with five minutes to go), but we deserved it after the hard work we'd put in. A good job by all."
The shutout was the second for the Metros this season. Rookie keeper Cole Burgman notched his second goose egg with 3 saves on nine shots.
Saturday's game will be nationally "digicast" at USLsoccer.com web site (www.uslsoccer.com) as part of its Saturday Night Soccer weekly program. Visitors to the site can register for free to view the match while participating in interactive trivia and chats at the same time.
Webcasts or Info: www.nashvillemetros.com
Nashville vs. Charleston
Saturday, 7:00 p.m.