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Kansas City Wiz 1996
1996 Club by Club
The inaugural season began with a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Apr. 13, 1996 in front of 21,141 Kansas City fans and ended with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference Final on Oct. 13, 1996.
The Wiz began play under head coach Ron Newman. The inaugural season ended with a losing effort in the Western Conference finals. The team also officially extended its name to “Wizards” following the 1996 season, ending the short, but memorable life of the "Wiz" moniker.
During the year, the Wiz left soccer fans across the country spellbound and definitely made a name for themselves in MLS. Without question, the Wizards Game of the Year, and possibly the MLS Game of the Year, occurred at Arrowhead Stadium on May 2, when the Wizards downed the Columbus Crew, 6-4.
Trailing 4-2 with less then 25 minutes remaining, the explosive Wiz offense scored four unanswered goals in 22 minutes. Led by two goals from forward Mo Johnston and by Preki's double-double (2 goals, 2 assists), the Wizards were able to come-from-behind to get an improbable victory.
The game marked the first time in league history that two players from the same team scored multiple goals in a game, and established Preki as an MLS superstar. His double-double game was not matched during the course of the 160-game MLS regular season.
As they did against the Crew, the Wiz made coming from behind to win a habit during their inaugural season. Kansas City came-from-behind to win in nine of their 17 victories during the regular season.
On the big stage Kansas City seemed to be in their element, compiling an MLS best 8-2 record during nationally televised games, scoring at least four goals on four occasions. One of those games was the club's 6-4 victory over Columbus on ESPN, another was a 5-1 blowout of D.C. United at home on Jun. 20 on ESPN2, and yet another was an 4-1 victory over the San Jose Clash that vaulted the Wiz into first place for a month from Aug. 15 to Sept. 12.
At 33, Preki established himself as more than just an indoor player, compiling the most balanced season of any player in MLS. He finished tied for second in the League with 49 points, which included an MLS-record 12-game home scoring streak. Overall, the former English Premier League player scored in 13 of 16 games at Arrowhead. With 18 goals and 13 assists, he was the only player to rank among the MLS Top 10 in both goals and assists, ranking in the top four of each.
Preki was a workhorse, being one of only two players in the League to play every minute of the season and the only player to also play all 90 minutes in the MLS All-Star Game.
The Wiz took a big first step towards MLS Cup '96 with a 3-2 come-from-behind home victory over the Dallas Burn on Sept. 26 in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals. The manner of victory was nothing new for the Wiz, as this win was the 10th time they had come from behind during the season when trailing after the 75th minute.
The game winner for the Wiz was scored by Preki, with one minute remaining as he dribbled around two Burn defenders and let go a blast that found the back of the net and gave the Wizards' the 3-2 win.
Dallas won Game Two, 2-1 in Dallas on Sept. 29, tying the series at 1-1. The Wizards advanced to the Western Conference Finals with a 3-2 shootout victory at Dallas on Oct. 2, as Preki and Frank Klopas converted shootout goals with Paul Wright scoring the winning shootout goal for Kansas City.
But Kansas City’s season came to an abrupt end as Galaxy defender Greg Vanney scored the winning goal in the 57th minute as LA defeated Kansas City 2-1 on Oct. 10 at Arrowhead Stadium, taking a 1-0 series lead in the Western Conference Final. Preki tied the score 1-1 at 52 minutes when he dribbled through the Galaxy defense and scored from 12 yards out. Before that, Chris Armas of LA had given the Galaxy a 1-0 lead, scoring in the 48th minute. LA forward Mauricio Cienfuegos' goal in the fifth shootout round gave the Galaxy a 2-1 win in Game Two, the Western Conference title and a trip to MLS Cup '96.