Lack of sharpness dulls Wizards
Although not a dagger to the Kansas City Wizards' hopes for advancing to the semifinal round of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, Wednesday's scoreless draw in the first leg at home against Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica was also not a cause for elation.
"It was OK," said Wizards coach Bob Gansler. "Certainly not scintillating, but OK."
In what was an early beginning to the season, the match saw the Wizards' defense picking up where it left off last season when it was the stingiest in Major League Soccer.
Saprissa forward Ronald Gomez was a skillful and physical threat all night long and gave center back Jimmy Conrad headaches in the first half through his repeated attacks on Bo Oshoniyi's goal. In the 29th minute, Gomez hit for goal through traffic, a ball Oshoniyi didn't immediately see.
"That was the one I didn't see until late, and he struck it pretty well so it was a reaction save. I got enough of it to keep it out of the goal," said Oshoniyi.
After making some adjustments at the half, the back line was on for the shutout. But what the Wizards desperately needed was a goal, to take an advantage on to the second leg in San Jose, Costa Rica.
After a couple of chances were wasted in the first half, a well-placed restart by midfielder Diego Gutierrez in the 72nd minute found Davy Arnaud, who rose up to put his side in front, but it wasn't to be.
"I didn't know where the 'keeper was at the time; I was just trying to get something on it and get it on goal," Arnaud said. "Unfortunately it went right into his stomach."
The lack of a consistently strong, accurate touch on shots and in overall play owed somewhat to a lack of game experience, and in the end, fitness.
"I thought we would have enough juice for 70, maybe 75 minutes, but the idea is to get a lead and then you can let the ball do your work a little bit. And we didn't get that," said Gansler. "So for sure, even with adding a couple of guys at the end, we couldn't push it, we couldn't get another gear."
Midfielder Chris Klein, playing his first meaningful match in nearly seven months after recovering from a left knee injury, stressed the urgency of the Wizards' situation as they play Saprissa again on March 17 for the right to move on in the continental club championship.
"You can just do so many things and you don't have game sharpness. It's the first game of the season, but we don't have the luxury of waiting," he said. "We just have to execute."
Strangely, the next encounter with the Costa Rican power will be played on the Fieldturf at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa. So the Wizards' touch and execution will have to be spot on.
"We weren't quick enough, weren't sharp enough, and that's part of where we are in the season. I said to the guys we'd be better next time out, that's for sure," Gansler said.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.