Wizards need victory, help to make playoffs

Mathematically, the Kansas City Wizards are still alive in their hunt for a MLS Cup Playoffs berth. But, it is going to take a whole lot of help.

Wizards technical director/interim head coach Peter Vermes knows it.

"Everybody else has to have a nightmare, and we need to win two games," Vermes said. "That's basically it."

Heading into this Saturday's home tilt with Seattle Sounders FC (10-7-11), the Wizards need to win both of the team's remaining games and have five teams ahead of them in the standings all lose both.

Vermes' introspective approach since taking over as coach seems best served in a situation like this, where Kansas City (8-12-8) must win to even bring any other teams into play.

The Wizards' focus will be on themselves, and the goal won't be to start the game strong but to finish that way. Vermes said the conditioning of his team was a major factor in last week's 2-0 loss to Chivas USA, and it would be an area of emphasis moving forward.

"I think it was the best 65 minutes we've played so far," Vermes said of his team's start against Chivas. "The thing that is hard for me to swallow is when we lose the game based on fitness. You could just see that we aren't fit enough to carry the game for 90 minutes.

"When you get to that point, you can see it on the good group of guys you have on the field where they're just dying out. But, you only have three subs, so you have to be very careful on what subs you make at that point."

He also said, however, the team's hands are tied a little in terms of how to deal with a fitness issue in the middle of the season.

"You have to pick your poison," Vermes said. "Do you really try to slack off at the beginning and keep it toward the end, or do you just go out there and play, hopefully steal one or two [goals] early and drive the game."

While the team as a whole is struggling to finish the season strong, rookie midfielder Graham Zusi appears to be peaking at the right time.

After starting the first few games of this season, Zusi sustained a hamstring injury that hindered him long enough to see his playing time disappear. By the time he healed completely, former coach Curt Onalfo had his lineup set, and Zusi found getting back in the mix next to impossible.

Since Onalfo's departure, Zusi has been one of Vermes' tinkers to the lineup, and the young midfielder has responded, playing perhaps his best game of the season against Chivas. It was good enough that Vermes believed Zusi was one of the best players on the field last Saturday.

Zusi said the up-and-down nature to his rookie season has taught him to appreciate opportunities when they present themselves.

"After the first couple of starts at the beginning of the season, the injury hampered me quite a bit," Zusi said. "Trying to get back into the lineup was real tough. It was tough trying to get any playing time at all.

"So, when something like this comes around, to get another opportunity toward the end of the season, I'm very appreciative of that. I'm going to try and run with it."

Curtis Kitchen is a contributor to MLSnet.com