Wizards not short on resources
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - If given the choice, the Kansas City Wizards would not choose to have seven games (including two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup matches) in a scant 24 days in August, or a match every 3-4 days in the brutal heat of the summer.
Or maybe they would.
After all, the tight schedule demands appropriate rest for players, which means opportunities for others. Additionally, a team is put under a high amount of stress, which can prove a valuable preview of team chemistry ahead of the playoffs.
And as Wizards head coach Bob Gansler put it, "more games, less practice. It's always easier to get up for games than it is for practices."
Halfway through their "dog days" of August, Kansas City has proven to be a greyhound, winning the first three matches - a 6-1 Open Cup victory and wins against one-time co-conference leaders New England and Chicago on the road.
However, after Saturday's clash with Real Salt Lake, the Wizards' cadre of players will be diminished by two as defender Jimmy Conrad and forward Scott Sealy depart for the U.S.-Trinidad & Tobago World Cup qualifier on Aug. 17.
"We feel we have the depth to cover that," Gansler said. "It's about people getting healthy and getting sharper."
A stable of competent and ready backups is the likely source of Gansler's confidence.
"We know that coach is going to rotate a lot of players to keep guys ready and strong. Guys know they are going to get rest, and they are going to need it," said center back Shavar Thomas. "Coach is looking for some of the young guys to step in there and do the job. I know they are ready."
The past two games have seen Gansler employ one-time backup Brian Roberts, as well as Khari Stephenson, in place of first-choice right back Nick Garcia with his suspension in the last two matches. With Garcia joining the Wizards in Salt Lake, Gansler can afford to rest anyone who needs it.
Should any of the midfielders or forwards need time to recoup, the ageless Preki, Jack Jewsbury and recently rehabilitated Diego Walsh are primed to play.
"He's technically one of the more gifted players we have out here; he just hasn't been able to translate it into game situations all the time. Quite often against barnstorming and in reserve league games, he's been magnificent," said Gansler of the skilled Walsh. "But you've also got to put it on Saturday night when there are league points to be gained. He hasn't always been able to do that. Hopefully with a repaired groin, it gives him a little extra."
Walsh went down early in the season with athletic pubiglia, an injury that cut his playing time at only 16 minutes this season after a very successful training camp in the spring.
"It's just a matter of getting a chance now. I've played  minutes this whole season, so I haven't had my chance yet. It's a matter of getting my chance and showing what I can do on the field," said Walsh, who had a goal and two assists in the Wizards' last reserve match July 21. "Every preseason game we had against an MLS team I performed well. Now [I need to be] sharp, practice well, and wait for my chance. I'm itching to play; every soccer player's goal is to be on the field and perform."
Alex Zotinca is another player who is used to seeing more time and may be ready to contribute soon. Zotinca has had a lingering quadriceps strain that has kept him out for weeks.
Rookie Ryan Pore, back Dustin Branan and even regular Diego Gutierrez are other players Gansler can choose from as the Wizards' August odyssey continues. And with the transfer window opening Aug. 15, the stable could have a new horse or two as the Wizards brass makes their decision on trialists Jermaine Hue of Jamaica and Antii Sumiala of Finland.
Competition is fierce on the field for the Wizards and amongst themselves, and that can only be good for results.
"If he sees you working, you're going to get your chance. You just have to be ready," Thomas said. "I didn't play the first five games. I knew I was going to get my chance, and all of these young players, they know. They have to show coach [they're] ready and [they] want it."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.