Wizards building in competitive camp

The limitations of the Arrowhead Indoor Training Facility will be left in the cold by Bob Gansler's Kansas City Wizards on Tuesday, when they will take to the great outdoors in Tampa, Fla. The club will play what should be a revealing seven exhibition matches during their two-week stay, which will also serve as a trial for some possible discovery signings.

Ready or not, Gansler began putting his charges through their paces on Feb. 1 in Kansas City.

"Some guys came in here fitter than others, and it is certainly advantageous to them. The guys who came in here fat and slow did themselves a disservice," Gansler said. "There's a challenge for roster spots from guys who were here last year as developmental players, there are draftees, and there are other potential developmental players here that are pushing them. That's not to say that all of the veterans are in that boat; a lot of them were very conscientious about their offseason stuff."

The offseason saw many come and go. The most significant to arrive were players taken or obtained during the January SuperDraft. They are endeavoring to nudge one another, as well as the established players, aside.

"Ryan Pore [taken 16th overall] has done reasonably well and so has [midfielder] John Minagawa-Webster[taken in the 4th round]. He was probably the least-known of our draftees, and he's shown that he is worthy of having been picked in those first four rounds," Gansler said.

Adding to an offense that lacked consistency was a key focus of the SuperDraft as witnessed by the club's selection of forward Scott Sealy, the Wake Forest University product who was the 11th overall pick.

"Sealy is not here because he is still with the Trinidadian national team. He was on the bench in the U.S. game but didn't see the field. He's staying down there in, I think, the Digital Cup (the Caribbean qualifier for the CONCACAF Gold Cup). We won't see him until probably March 1st, but it might be a little bit before that," said the five-year Wizards' boss. "Nevertheless, he's training down there, and he's going to get some meaningful games."

Following a pattern of recent years, the Wizards dealt a pick on draft day, this time looking to add immediate attacking punch to their midfield. Gansler feels former Los Angeles Galaxy man Sasha Victorine will help intensify attacks on goal.

"Sasha is becoming acclimated here and is going to be a very valuable addition," he said. "He is coming off an operation, had a bone spur in the back of his leg. He's been able to do most of [the training] and shows, on a daily basis, the quality player that he is."

With returning midfield starters Diego Gutierrez and Jack Jewsbury, the likely re-signing of Kerry Zavagnin, the improved recovery of Preki, the late-season surge of Jamaican international Khari Stephenson, and the return of All-Star Chris Klein, the Wizards' midfield could be a largely discussed and doggedly competitive issue.

However the on-field dynamics work out, at this point the man who has the last say is sure of one thing concerning Victorine's impact.

"He's going to wind up on the field, somewhere. It's blessing and a curse because he is very versatile," said Gansler. "No matter where we put him, he's going to give us additional offensive capabilities; he's got good touch, he likes to get in the box, he likes to take whacks at goal, and he's going to be one of our better head-ball guys, an area of last year in which we weren't very good."

Adding to Gansler's seemingly optimistic outlook is the progress made by Klein and Preki who are in recovery after season ending injuries last season.

"For sure, it's great to see a guy like Klein, who is coming off his second ACL, outdueling people in the physical out there. It's amazing. It shows what a strong psychological makeup can do for you," said Gansler.

"[Preki] is doing OK. He's far from the Preki of old, but the encouraging part is that he's further along than he was last year when he came back in terms of just being comfortable out there physically, being without pain and being able to do some of the technical things. He's working hard, and he's optimistic. As we always say, the more people that say nay, the more likely Preki's going to say yay."

The Florida sunshine will allow the Wizards to stretch out into 11 vs. 11 tactical training that will build on the stamina and technical aspects that have been the focus thus far.

Consequently the coaching staff's minds will be stretched as they make significant progress towards whittling down the roster and deciding who will step onto the pitch in their first real contest come Wednesday, March 9 as the Wizards host Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa at Arrowhead Stadium in the first leg of their quarterfinal series in the 2005 CONCACAF Champions' Cup.

"We like what we added, but it depends on how it works out. We didn't add anybody at the back, which is okay, but our back players need to be confident with the ball coming forward and doing a better job with all of that in a variety of ways," Gansler said. "We made additions, but we need an all-around improvement."

For those players, old and new, concerned with making a lasting impression, the first match in Florida, on Thursady vs. Real Salt Lake, will be an opportunity they shouldn't let slip by.

Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


To report a comment, mouseover or touch the comment and then click/touch the flag icon (Flag).