Surprise starters help Wizards 'show up'
One met the team halfway through their coast-to-coast road swing, the other was on his first road trip of his professional career.
But both the venerable Preki and rookie forward Ryan Pore gained surprise starts for the Kansas City Wizards in their match at New England this past weekend as coach Bob Gansler looked to enliven his battle-weary club, playing its fourth match in 10 days.
And their inclusion in the lineup played a part in the Wizards gaining an important point in their 1-1 tie with the Eastern Conference-leading Revolution.
"It was a total surprise. To be honest, I was wondering if I was going to be on the bench," Preki said. "But I got a call to play. I've been itching to play."
Said the 21-year-old Pore: "It was definitely a surprise. Coach didn't tell me until Saturday at our team meeting, and it was quite a shock at first. I felt like if I went out there and played the way I'm capable of, it would be fine."
That type of can-do attitude is precisely what Gansler demands when inserting a player into the starting 11.
"It shouldn't be anything major - actually, it should be something that should be done quite fluidly time and time again," said Gansler, who held midfielder Chris Klein out of the lineup due to Achilles' tendon soreness. "I'm one of those guys who doesn't prescribe to, 'We've got to have the same 11,' and all of that stuff. That's antiquated. It no longer applies.
"[And] I don't want the guys coming in to say, 'This is going to be so difficult because I haven't played with these guys for a long time,'" said Gansler. "The guys who are in there shouldn't be going, 'What could go wrong?' [They should say,] 'I know what kind of a player Ryan Pore is and what kind of balls he needs; let's do it.'
But even Gansler and Preki himself understand that the storied veteran's return to consistent appearances in the lineup is dependant on many factors.
It was not surprising then that Preki's performance was not up to the standards he has set for himself based on his illustrious past, but it was something to build on for the man who hasn't seen the field much in the last two years due to injury.
"I thought I played average - nothing extraordinary. But considering how long I've been out and haven't played that many minutes this year, I thought I did OK," he said. "I need to be playing to perform to the level I can perform. If I get a chance here and there, it will be tough to find that form. Most of these guys already have 10 games into their legs, and I've played my first full half; I'm playing catch-up here. I'm happy I was on the field again."
Although the 41-year-old played just the first half, Gansler sees promise in his storied veteran as he tries to figure out the best way to assimilate Preki into the lineup.
"He shows flashes. We just have to see how long he can sustain those things, that's the biggest thing. He's been pretty much gone for two years. How long can he sustain it? How do we use him best? That's what we're trying to figure out," said Gansler. "He might think otherwise, but 45 minutes is a long time. He gave us some moments, but it's a long time to sustain quality when you are where he is."
Pore seemed to grow more comfortable and more dangerous in his 68 minutes as the match wore on.
"I came out a little shaky, but I think coach said it best: I got better with every minute. I had a lot of energy and a lot of opportunities, but I was unable to put them away. I felt like I gave us a good force up top," he said.
"What I learned is that I still have a lot of hard work to put in. I was pretty gassed after maybe ten or 15 minutes, and I hit my second wind. It's a different level. I think if I keep on improving, I'll be a good player in this league someday."
Gansler was pretty happy with Preki and Pore's performances; moreover, he is happy with what he has learned about his team.
"We're pretty resilient. We know how to battle for points, and we know how to play for points. And that's what we have to continue to do because you can't always do it by scoring a bundle of goals, you can't always do it by just exquisite plays. You need both," he said. "And you can't always do it by rolling up your sleeves and collaring the win [either] ... Two home wins and two away ties in that 10-day window - that's a good two weeks work.
"I've always thought it was important to show up for every game. Success is an everyday, every game, thing. The idea is to endeavor to have a good performance every time out. I commend the guys because they're keen to be successful; they know that opportunity is there all of the time, and that you shouldn't be looking for excuses. And they didn't. That's to their credit. Right now, I like 'em."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.