When opportunity comes a knockin'

a four-game swing between July 14 and Aug. 8. That will make for a prime opportunity for the Wizards to make a run for the top seed in the West.

After the rematch of the 2003 Western Conference championship on June 26 in San Jose, the Wizards will enjoy five of its following six games in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium. Of the team's seven matches to close out the year, four will be played at home.

Although it does not own the best league road record (2-3-1), Kansas City has been on the short end of a 1-0 score line in its three road losses, allowing goals in the 73rd and 75th minutes in two of the games.

Despite the numbers, the Wizards are the toughest team to crack in MLS at home or on the road based on their tactical discipline, an organized possession game and an opportunistic attack. Credit to Gansler's crew that they don't change the game plan whether at home or on the road and if they have a lead they are tough to catch. That may also apply to the weekly standings in a few weeks' time.

Sarachan was in the right: Saturday's game between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire seemingly hinged on the Fire's personnel on the left flank (the Galaxy's right side of attack). And critics, including the ESPN2 broadcasters, point to Fire head coach Dave Sarachan substituting Justin Mapp in the 80th minute as the direct cause of the plays that led to the Galaxy's two goals.

While it is true that both the equalizing and game-winning goals came from the Galaxy's right flank, they cannot be directly attributed to Mapp, who is not known for his defensive prowess. Mapp did keep Albright busy all afternoon but there is no clear indication from the match that it debilitated the Galaxy from attacking down the flank or sending crosses in from that side through Cobi Jones.

If blame needs to be attributed for the Fire giving up the lead on the road, the finger has to be pointed to the central defenders -- Jim Curtin, C.J. Brown and Kelly Gray -- all physically gifted players who are usually effective in the aerial game. These defensive giants were beaten on two headers in the center of the box. Another finger can be pointed to the Fire's midfield, which was unable to maintain a possession game and allowed the Galaxy to carry the initiative in the match's final stages.

Sarachan did the right thing to insert fresh legs in that 80th minute in place of Mapp, who had given all he could in the hot temperatures in Carson, Calif. The Fire was ready to hold down the fort and defend the 2-1 lead but basic defending in the box and repeated giveaways did them in -- not a simple substitution.

Andy Pavon is a freelance soccer writer taking another perspective on the matches of the past weekend, past the box scores and standings. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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