K.C. 'keeper of choice still in question

Veteran goalkeeper Tony Meola is ready to play in MLS Cup 2004, but his replacement during his extended injury, Bo Oshoniyi, appears to be on track to start.

After training with the first side most of Friday's training session at The Home Depot Center and then going to train individually with goalkeeper coach Tim Mulqueen, Oshoniyi was asked if what had just taken place was any indication of if he or the steely Meola, one of the most decorated 'keepers in MLS history, will be in the nets come Sunday.

"We've got to wait, I guess, until coach puts the lineup on," said the 33-year-old Oshoniyi. "You would like to think if I'm playing with the starting team a couple days before, I'm going to get the nod."

When asked a similar question, Meola gave the facts.

"No one has spoken to me, not my position coach, not my assistant coach, not my head coach," he said.

When asked when he thought he might find out, he deferred to the coaching staff.

"I have no idea -- you're asking the wrong guy," Meola said.

A strained right Achilles has kept Meola out of the lineup for nearly three months straight, save for starting and winning the U.S. Open Cup on Sept. 22 by dealing a shutout to the Chicago Fire.

Two weeks ago, the 35-year-old Meola was slated to start the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal at Arrowhead Stadium against the San Jose Earthquakes, but was scratched at the last minute when his Achilles injury again flared up. Things now seem to be fine now, however.

"I feel good, probably about 90 percent right now," Meola said. "I've felt pretty good. I've trained, I've had no limitations. I feel good."

Besides his massive experience playing in big matches with the Wizards -- including winning MLS Cup 2000 MVP honors -- and with the U.S. national team, Meola is a strong distributor of the ball which would serve the Wizards' counterattack well.

"I think if I'm ready, I'm the best man for the job," Meola said.

Oshoniyi possesses a strong arm that would serve to send long outlets to the midfield and forwards, but his kicking is sometimes suspect. Furthermore, Oshoniyi admittedly had some difficulty handling the bevy of crosses the Earthquakes sent in on him in San Jose during the first leg of the conference semifinal.

Oshoniyi believes, though, that claiming crosses is a strong suit.

"I think a lot of goalkeepers have trouble in San Jose because of the size of the field, the ball comes in so quick. I think that's one of my strengths, if anything. On a big field like this field [The Home Depot Center] it's going to be fun actually able to come out and come and snare crosses," he said.

Another contributing factor to Kansas City coach Bob Gansler's decision may be the match readiness of each 'keeper. Meola feels he can step in without showing any rust.

"I did for the Open Cup (when he played after a 34-day layoff). I've done it for this organization time and time again," Meola said.

The Wizards have been successful regardless of who has been in the nets by giving the 'keeper as little to do as possible, but a goalkeeper can make or break a side in a one-match winner-take-all situation.

Oshoniyi is not going to take time to worry about his fate. He's just glad to have the chance to be playing for the top trophy in U.S. soccer.

"We're in the Cup Final, as long as we're holding up that trophy Sunday afternoon, I'm happy -- I'm tickled pink for us," he said. "I'd love to play, obviously, every pro wants to play in a championship game. But at the end of the day, coach is going to make the call, and I'm just looking forward to holding up the trophy at the end of the day."

Meola wants to play too, as he continues to wait for a word.

"I understand the decision is not mine, and whatever the decision is, got to live with it," he said. "I expected to at least have some conversation by this time. But the three coaches haven't been able to stay far away enough from me for three days."

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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