KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Last Saturday at RFK Stadium, the Kansas City Wizards achieved one short-term goal - getting the second half of their season off to a good start. Now another short-term goal is ahead - building on the momentum of a positive performance.
"It was about the urgency we had about our game and about the commitment that we showed to stick to the game for 90-plus minutes - the difference between every other game this year. Saturday was a good example of what we can do," said midfielder Diego Gutierrez, as he explained the key to the Wizards 1-0 away triumph against D.C. United.
Kansas City is currently sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference, hoping to continue making strides toward becoming a consistent - and winning - team as they play host to Real Salt Lake on Saturday. However, the Wizards have yet to take their home to heart in season 10, bleeding away a total of nine points in their eight matches at Arrowhead Stadium.
"This team has to have the mentality that every time we step on the field in this stadium it's got to be three points regardless of who the opponent is," Gutierrez said. "Real Salt Lake has had a rough week, but it doesn't matter who it is, it could be Dallas, L.A., or New England."
The week has seen Salt Lake suffer a 5-1 defeat to their expansion brethren Chivas USA on Saturday, and then at midweek, lose their first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match to USL First Division side Minnesota Thunder 6-4 in extra time.
Furthermore, Real has not won an MLS contest since May 18, and the 10-game winless streak has dragged their season down to where they sit just north of Chivas USA in the West, four points ahead on three wins and four ties to go with their 10 defeats.
"I think [Real Salt Lake] are at a point where they are going [to be like] an animal backed up into a corner. I don't have any doubts they are going to come out here and give their best effort and try to play the best game of the year because that's what they need," said Wizards head coach Bob Gansler. "So we have to match that intensity and that work rate and take that from our last game, which was at a very high level, if not the best all year long."
The Wizards' focus has been good all week, revealing the commitment evident against United, but Gansler hopes his charges also see clearly that they were not infallible in victory.
"We played better with the ball in the first half than we did in the second half. We fought valiantly in both halves - we can play better than we did in D.C," he said.
In the last two seasons under Gansler's tutelage, the Wizards have made an art of getting a goal from either an expected or unexpected source and making the most of it, a trait born straight out of a strong ethic of non-stop team work. A result Saturday versus Real Salt Lake will likely spring from this foundation again.
Forward Davy Arnaud, who has toiled wide in midfield as well as forward this season, used his speed and usual determination to penetrate United's defense repeatedly in the first half but left with no points to show for it. Having Arnaud at the top of his game would certainly help sink Real Salt Lake.
"I got into some good spots. A couple of times I like to take one more touch and the touch was maybe a little too far or maybe I didn't pull the trigger. Maybe I just need to hit it up earlier," Arnaud said. "The tough part is sometimes getting into the spots. But once you get there, you have to convert them."
Arnaud is seemingly determined to right his own wrongs from last week as he looks forward to Saturday's challenge.
"That was a really big win for us last weekend. But we've got to carry that momentum into this week, especially," he said. "To make last weekend matter, we need to get a win."
Gansler too framed the future by way of the past.
"If we don't do well in this one, we're back to where we were before D.C.," he said. "And, for sure, that's not the place we want to be."
Bob Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.