K.C. hopes to find right track vs. D.C.

The Kansas City Wizards aren't looking to avenge their 3-2 defeat in MLS Cup 2004 to D.C. United on Saturday when they take on the Black-and-Red at Arrowhead Stadium (3 p.m. CT, ESPN2).

Don't get them wrong, the Wizards are ready to dominate an opponent and exorcise some early season demons, but it's just coincidence that the team that kept them from closing a storied 2004 season with a suitable ending last November might provide the fodder for an exorcist-like frenzy.

"We're coming off a loss -- we're at home; we take a lot of pride being at home and expect to get the result. We won't be satisfied with anything less," said an in-form Josh Wolff.

As far as playing D.C. United for the first time since the league final, Wolff said it's just an obstacle in a new goal.

"It does happen to be against a team we lost to in a final, so there will be some other emotions in it," he said. "But you're not going to make up for losing in a final. The only way to do that is getting back there and winning one."

And Saturday could get the Wizards back on a confident run and remind them that they can be a Cup-winning threat.

Having succeeded in juicing up their offense through a broad arsenal of Wolff, forwards Davy Arnaud and rookie Scott Sealy, and midfielders Chris Klein and Jack Jewsbury, the Wizards have the firepower to match the lethal United attack.

Unfortunately, the Wizards share a dubious status with their now Eastern division rivals, letting in the same amount of goals and they have scored. For the Wizards, giving up goals -- and leads -- is an irritating cycle they are ready to break.

"It's difficult each time you continue to get the lead and you relinquish it," said Wolff. "It's a lot of guys doing it on the offense, it's a lot of guys doing it on the defense, so we all look at each other. It's not one real reason; it's a collective effort. And that's been our motto since last year."

Comparatively, the Wizards should be more together than United, who are facing a number of injury battles. The only K.C. starter who might not play is first-choice right back Sasha Victorine, as he continues to battle a hamstring strain. D.C. may be without striker Alecko Eskandarian, who scored twice in MLS Cup 2004, English winger Steve Guppy, and defender David Stokes.

D.C. lost 2004 MLS Defender of the Year Ryan Nelsen to the English Premier League in the offseason, so the loss of Stokes and the questionable status of backup Brandon Prideaux due to a hamstring strain depletes an already young United back line even more.

"We're going to have to look and try to push the game on those guys. They've given up a few more goals than they probably would have liked in the first few games, but they still have a solid team on that field," Wolff said. "Up front with Alecko and Jaime [Moreno] and [midfielder Christian] Gomez, in the back you've got a veteran in Mike [Petke], Nick [Rimando] in goal, a couple new faces in back -- hopefully we'll get some opportunities going forward. It's going to be a tough game either way."

Last week the Wizards got goals from Klein and Sealy in a 3-2 loss at San Jose. Klein continued his goal-a-game trend, and Sealy gained his first start and goal for the young season. Sealy's start pushed Wolff's regular forward partner and offensive catalyst Arnaud to the left in midfield, displacing Jewsbury who had scored in each of K.C.'s first two matches.

Wizards coach Bob Gansler is unlikely to put all five attackers on the field from the start against United's 3-5-2 formation, even though he has repeatedly mentioned the option of playing three up front with Sealy, Wolff, and Arnaud. But don't be surprised if the Wizards attack D.C.'s defense relentlessly despite a potent counterattack led by some people's 2004 MVP, Moreno, and company.

"If you give Jaime space, he is good at either putting the ball away himself or finding that open person. Not giving Jaime and Alecko the space to wheel and deal and get into the flow of the game [is the key]," said Wizards goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi. "If we can put our stamp on the game early and control things from the outset, we'll be OK."

The mix of an opportunity-creating attack and a smothering defense is what the Wizards aim to put together.

"What we need to do is find a balance here, and find a formula to win because that's what it's all about. If it's 1-0 or 4-3 it doesn't matter -- at the end of the day it's three points," said Gansler. "We have been scintillating every game so far in the first half, but we've not maintained it. So we just need to be solid for 90-plus minutes. That's what we're looking for."

"We're looking forward to getting after D.C. this weekend, and I think that's going to be our first step," said Oshoniyi. "Now that we're scoring goals, if we can start winning games shutting out teams, we'll be a very dangerous team in the future."

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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