After two wins and six points in the bag after two matches at home, the Kansas City Wizards aren’t exactly being eased into life on the road.
More than 30,000 Sounders fans packed into Qwest Field Saturday afternoon will likely have something to say about that. And the Sounders themselves are on a bit of a mission, looking to avenge a 1-0 loss at the hands of Kansas City in Seattle almost exactly a year ago.
But rather than be intimidated by their surroundings, the Wizards are betting that -- like a year ago -- the fans and the occasion will only heighten their play.
“The atmosphere just makes you play better,” left back Roger Espinoza said. “It’s 30,000-plus in the stadium, and we are looking forward to that. It makes you feel like you are a professional soccer player there.”
Last season Kansas City took advantage of an early red card to Kasey Keller and a late Davy Arnaud strike to put their names among the three sides -- Chelsea and the New England Revolution being the others -- that found a way to collect three points at Qwest in 2009.
The New York Red Bulls pulled off the same feat a few weeks ago, but with another season to build the squad, coach Sigi Schmid and the Sounders figure to be an even stiffer test at home this time around.
“It’s definitely going to be a very big measuring stick for us,” Wizards coach Peter Vermes said. “We have quite a few down the road. Lots of teams with new stadiums, different environments that a lot of our guys have never even seen before.”
The team flew to Seattle on Thursday, a 1,500-mile flight that was more than likely a new experience for most of the team’s 10 new additions. This weekend represents their first chance to acclimate themselves to what they can expect on the road for the rest of the season.
Thus far Kansas City has held court on their home turf, posting two shutouts while playing two distinctly different styles of teams in D.C. United and Colorado. In the Sounders, the Wizards will face a team built in a similar vein.
Both teams prefer to possess the ball on the ground, and both are attacking sides with dynamic players going forward to compliment stout defense cores. Each even boasts a speedy English winger on the left flank in K.C.’s Ryan Smith and Seattle’s Steve Zakuani.
But perhaps the biggest difference between the two is the presence of Freddie Ljungberg, who Vermes called the “motor” for the hosts, and Freddy Montero, who burst onto the MLS scene one year ago.
“We know full well that they’ll try drive the game, and we’ll have to absorb some pressure at times,” Vermes said.
Another interesting twist for the Wizards is that they didn’t seem entirely comfortable on turf in a 2-1 defeat to the Colorado Rapids on Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup play-in match.
The Wizards trained on the turf field at their Swope Park training complex most of the week, but the transition from grass to turf -- even with time to prepare -- isn’t always a smooth process.
“For some reason on turf, you have to put that extra focus in because most of the bounces are not going to come your way,” forward Kei Kamara said. “It’s just a lot faster.”
That speed should benefit both sides, something Vermes has been reminding his team this week. In Josh Wolff, Kamara Smith and Arnaud, Kansas City has plenty of on-form talent to matchup with Seattle's potent lineup.
And although snatching another three points in the Emerald City won’t be easy, the Wizards know they can’t afford to focus too much on what they’re up against.
“They’re a good team, no doubt,” Vermes said. “But we can’t make any mistakes in thinking we don’t have weapons as well.”