K.C. eagerly awaits return of injured

On the heels of a less than stellar offensive display Wednesday versus the MetroStars, the Kansas City Wizards find themselves at a crossroads. It was in August and September of last season that the club went into an offensive funk scoring only eight times in nine games, winning only once. Due to a number of injuries, signs of a similar letdown this season are beginning to show.

Goal production can often run in hot and cold streaks making reliable offensive contributors all the more coveted and injuries costly, case in point, Josh Wolff. The explosive All-Star striker will skip Saturday's showcase to rest his inflamed right knee in hopes of an able return for the Wizards Open Cup quarterfinal match versus Dallas on Aug. 4. Wolff's absence was clear Wednesday as replacements Justin Detter and Matt Taylor failed to attract the considerable attention that Wolff does anytime he steps on the field.

Nearing recovery from a tear of his left Achilles' tendon is forward Igor Simutenkov who could provide the attacking depth and flexibility needed for a Wizards stretch run for the Western Conference title. Last season, Simutenkov emerged as a consistent threat posting 17 points on seven goals and three assists in 21 matches. He is a quick and crafty player who combines well up front and can also slide back to play an attacking midfield role. Simutenkov is targeted to return for the Aug. 14 home clash with the San Jose Earthquakes.

Yet, Simutenkov's speed has not completely returned. "No, [my speed is not like it was before]," said the former Russian international. "Six months [I have been out]. Proper preparation is very important. It's a difficult moment, but it's OK."

Proving difficult for the Wizards is the search for an effective central/attacking midfielder. Francisco Gomez and Diego Walsh have mostly failed to be serious threats to opposing defenses supported by the fact that each is often the first player subbed off the field, usually one for the other.

On occasion, regular wide midfielder Chris Klein has handled the role admirably. Keeping Klein on the wing is the best scenario as the Wizards lack significant depth there also.

Major League Soccer's reigning MVP, Preki, plays the attacking midfield role with aplomb and his rehabilitation from a fractured fibula and ankle dislocation is nearing its end. But one critical question remains: Can Preki take a hit without fear, physical or mental, of another injury? If one watches him in training, the answer is no. A likely accurate prognostication would be for a mid-to-late August return for the former Everton player.

For the Wizards and their supporters, the next few weeks should be telling.

Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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