Combinations vital to Wizards
The returning Francisco Gomez and the trio of Diego Walsh, Matt Taylor, and Igor Simutenkov hope to continue adding spark to a Kansas City Wizards attack that will be missing two vital cogs in Josh Wolff and Kerry Zavagnin for Saturday's match in San Jose.
Like the varied pieces of a puzzle, the players that make will make up the Wizards' attack for Saturday's encounter with the Earthquakes at Spartan Stadium will try to mesh their individual skills together to produce a cohesive and attractive result.
Having to replace one part of what has been a dynamic duo for the Wizards is a tough proposition. But when you have to replace parts of two such pairs, and it can seem like a daunting, no-win task.
If Gomez, Walsh and/or Simutenkov can perform well enough to garner at least a point for Kansas City, not only will a mission be accomplished but each will have made a step towards contributing a larger amount in the upcoming playoffs.
"I'm definitely ready to play San Jose," said Gomez, who has recovered from an ankle sprain that kept him out of the lineup the last two matches. "[I just want] to somehow help the team get a 'W' and take care of that first place spot for the playoffs."
Gomez will likely see significant minutes in the midfield looking to feed the front-runners, as will perhaps Walsh, who has made uneven contributions in Gomez's absence.
Of the two, the 24-year-old Walsh, acquired from the Columbus Crew in exchange for a conditional pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 15, is the one with the largest potential impact. Walsh's ability on the dribble can provide the Wizards with a dimension rarely seen throughout the 2004 campaign, taking on a defender or pair of defenders, and turning him inside-out on the way to goal. Walsh also possesses the innate ability to combine, a trait that makes him effective on the wing or in the center of midfield.
"Coach [Bob Gansler] finally found a spot for me on the wing, and I think it's been working out fine," said Walsh. "I've been trying to work on my defense a lot at practice, and, at the same time, I think we can use another option on the wings where I can use my skills and take people on and create more chances."
Gansler has spoken positively about Walsh's dedication recently and of his satisfaction with Walsh's play, but rookie forward Matt Taylor brings the biggest tone of pride to the coach's voice.
"Mattie continues to progress. He's a rookie, and they're going to have their peaks and valleys," Gansler said. "Matt had a couple of touches in [the game-tying goal last weekend in Los Angeles] -- the give and go that pushed Josh through, that's progress, the combinations that earlier in the year he didn't see."
Taylor understands that he will need to emulate what he sees daily to unlock San Jose's defense in the tight confines of the Earthquakes home ground.
"Davy and Wolffie combine a bunch up there, and it pays to watch and learn from them on the bench," the 22-year-old UCLA product stated. "When you get in there, you just try to continue that, step in and try not to miss a beat."
The most impacting offensive supplement of late for Kansas City has come from the feet of a wily veteran, former Russian international Simutenkov.
Simutenkov continues to recover from an Achilles tendon tear suffered in the preseason and a recent hamstring strain possibly brought on by overcompensating for the recuperating injury. According to Gansler, a fully fit Simutenkov is money in the bank.
"Igor is, at the top of his game, as good a technician as you have in the league, a good finisher, and a man who absolutely understands combination tactics," Gansler said. "And that's what we need to rev it up a little bit."
Each minute on the pitch gets Simutenkov closer to full fitness.
"The hamstring is much better. Every game [my fitness] gets better," he said. "I'm good for 45-60 minutes [now]."
As a unit, the Wizards know it will take a whole 90 minutes plus to put together a result Saturday as they take on a host who needs a win and a Dallas Burn loss to claim a playoff spot.
But Gomez, Walsh, Taylor, Simutenkov, and the rest of the Wizards are only focused on their two missions: gaining the Western Conference title with a victory, and the complete home-field advantage that goes with it, and developing depth for a prolonged journey through the Major League Soccer playoffs.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.