Despite the midweek loss in Columbus which stretched the Kansas City Wizards losing streak to three games, there was a bright spot on the night in the performance of second-year defender Taylor Graham.
A late-match substitute, Graham scored his first professional goal in an area where the Wizards have been lacking - and also showed Wizards boss Bob Gansler he can provide impact from other roles in the field.
Graham came on in the 71st minute of the eventual loss to Columbus, but he nearly put an end to the Wizards losing run with a goal just eight after entering the field, leveling the match at one. Kyle Martino's stoppage time goal gave the Crew the victory.
"It was exciting to get a goal, especially from the run of play as opposed to a set piece," Graham said.
Goals have come infrequently on headers for the Wizards this season - center backs Shavar Thomas and Jimmy Conrad each headed home corners in a 2-2 tie against the Crew on June 12, and Josh Wolff stooped to nod home a goalmouth scramble on the July 3 hammering of Dallas. But it was the first time this season Kansas City had powered home a header from a cross.
Perhaps more heady play in the box is what the stumbling Wizards need. Graham's smart communication as he entered the area ahead of Diego Gutierrez's cross proved he can fill the bill.
"Alex Zotinca was marked at the time, so I gave Alex a yell to clear the space. He made a near-post run with Josh and Davy [strikers Wolff and Arnaud], and I was able to sneak into the back post on a run from midfield unmarked," Graham said. "Diego saw me at the last second and served one up in the air for me. I just came sprinting in and headed near post."
Graham, accustomed to playing in the center of defense, was inserted at left back as a result of midfielder Francisco Gomez picking up a knock during the match.
"Last night, for the first time, I was able to get forward from the outside back position. I don't consider myself an outside back, but I'll play anywhere," he said.
And although midfielder Kerry Zavagnin will be in New England after national team duty, regular left back Jose Burciaga Jr. did not make the trip due to injury; therefore, Graham could be allowed to inject his 6-foot-4 height and alertness into a Wizards' starting lineup that hasn't fully answered the call in three consecutive losses.
"Our expectations are at a high level. We have to be critical with ourselves and figure out what we have to do to turn it around," said Graham.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to approval by MLS or its clubs.