Wizards together for Metros challenge
Allowing goals in the 54th and 81st minutes, each cutting a two-goal lead down to one, and having it happen at home was uncharacteristic of the Kansas City Wizards.
Perhaps it was a symptom of something seriously amiss, perhaps it was human error, or perhaps it was just soccer.
"I don't ever really think the house is on fire," said Nick Garcia, a central member of the Wizards stalwart back line. "I think there are certain people out there who say, 'Kansas City let in two goals, uh oh.' We've been playing since mid-January with the Champions' Cup and preseason, so for us to let those two goals in the first game, is of some importance.
"But I don't think it's a real concern. I think we're aware that we need to cut that stuff out and that we can do a better job."
Still, the Wizards came away from Week 1 with a 3-2 victory against the Colorado Rapids. Now they travel to Giants Stadium to face the MetroStars on Saturday after both teams had a week off.
Garcia and fellow centerback Jimmy Conrad take much pride in shutting down other teams' threats, thus they are constant in their communication to wide defenders Jose Burciaga Jr. and Sasha Victorine and the midfielders.
"It's a non-stop chatter. It's more about directing -- it's putting people in the best possible positions to make the play. If you tell [center midfielder] Kerry Zavagnin to shade one way or another to cut out a pass, it makes everybody's job a little easier," Conrad said. "You can [then] understand the power of communication and you figure if I can keep that up at a constant level for 90 minutes, it's going to make everybody's day a lot easier and that's what Nick and I try to do."
The Wizards are expected to start that entire back four, including Victorine, who should be available for duty despite a hamstring strain.
Skeptics may point to a supposed tendency of the Wizards to bunker in when having a lead late in a game and claim it can prevent a team from winning. Surely the second Colorado tally put the Wizards three points in danger, but team captain and center midfielder Diego Gutierrez has another version.
"To [Colorado's] credit, they needed to score some goals, and they put on two more attacking players [forward Jeff Cunningham and midfielder Mark Chung] extra from what they had before. So now you're dealing with actually nine and 10 guys that are solely attacking and now you have to adjust," said Gutierrez.
"It was a lack of concentration [but] being disciplined in defense means that when other teams put one and two new forwards on the field, you have to adjust and somebody has to drop. So you're giving up a little bit of space, and a lot of times that creates goals. The other guys on the other team are trying to do the same thing we are and that's to win the game."
Especially on the second goal. Colorado's numbers overwhelmed the Wizards and caused a series of breakdowns which the Wizards have spent part of the week remedying.
"The second was disappointing because it was so soft. It was like dominoes -- one guy got passed, the other guy got beat, the next guy got beat, and then a good finish from Chung. And it came from the middle of the park, in a place on the field where we feel we're pretty strong," said Conrad. "That's something we've worked on. We want to keep the right space between midfield and the backs, making sure if people do squirt through, which is going to happen, that we have people in the right spots."
In other words, the Wizards have re-acquainted themselves with the simple necessity of good defensive shape as they prepare to go on the road where defense is likely to be even more important, especially on the pace quickening turf at Giants Stadium.
"You really have to keep your ears open while you're running full speed. Those quick directions from players that can see the whole field sometimes make or break a game. [We have to] trust each other. We trust each other when we make mistakes, and we trust each other when things go well. I think that's the sign of a good team," Conrad said.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.