The MetroStars entered Saturday's home match with the Earthquakes having conceded a league-high 31 goals, six of which came in a 6-2 shellacking the week prior at the hands of D.C. United. So when the final whistle blew Saturday and the Metros were able to look up to the scoreboard and see a goose egg for the Earthquakes, it held a bit more significance than usual.
The Earthquakes were without their top attacking players, Landon Donovan and Brian Ching, but then the MetroStars were without their top defender Eddie Pope and were badly in need of a confidence booster in the back.
"I think it's important for us, because we haven't had enough of them," Metros' coach Bob Bradley said of the clean sheet, the third of the season for Jonny Walker. "It's something that we talk about."
The Earthquakes helped Walker's cause early by failing to string together any consistent play. But when the MetroStars finally pushed ahead in the 63rd minute, the struggling league champions managed to apply some pressure to Walker's goal and he and his defense responded to earn three points for a side that had dropped three consecutive matches coming in.
"You always have a chance to come back out and prove yourself again," Walker said. "The team stood up well today and we got a (huge) goal. (The shutout)'s not really as important to me as the win, but it's still big."
Until Amado Guevara's 93rd-minute penalty salted away the match for the Metros, nothing less than a shutout would have sufficed in order for the home side to take the full points. Twice in four minutes Walker came up big. First he raced to the far post and knocked away a dangerous flick-on by Craig Waibel that almost crossed the line. Next he raced into traffic and punched away a dangerous service as a pair of Earthquakes leaped to get their heads on the would-be equalizer.
"It's a good day for Jonny," Bradley said. "I'm pleased for him to come back (after the 6-2 loss). He's a good professional. He put a bad mistake behind him. He handled it like a pro. He took responsibility and had himself ready to go today."
The Metros must now show themselves to be consistent enough to remain atop the Eastern Conference as midseason passes and the battle for supremacy heats up. The club's next two league matches are against the defending Eastern Conference champion Chicago Fire - a team that has had the MetroStars' number in recent seasons - and sandwiched between is a trip to Charleston, S.C. for a U.S. Open Cup fourth round match. Then a difficult, midweek trip to Kansas City will usher in the All-Star break at month's end.
"We have a lot of games where we still feel like the general way we play is pretty good," Bradley said. "But the expression I use with the team is that that is only a starting point. Then from there you have to try to do more. You have to push each guy to give a little bit more for the team and come away with more plays in their part of the field and step up a little more. I think that a bunch of guys did that today. That's a good sign."
Dan Lauletta is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of MLS or its clubs.