KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The last match before the All-Star game is always seen as significant, and it's no different for the Kansas City Wizards.
Coming off an unsatisfactory performance in their come-from-behind 1-1 tie at home against D.C. United Wednesday night, the Wizards would like to begin what will be a week off from training with a positive result to jumpstart the push to the playoffs when they take on the Columbus Crew on Saturday.
As he used to do when he patrolling the Crew midfield, interim Crew head coach Robert Warzycha has deftly pulled the strings and guided his club to success in his first two games, starting with a 1-1 tie against Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Fire in Chicago and then a 1-0 win against the MetroStars at midweek.
That confidence the cellar-dwelling Crew have gained must be dealt with by the Wizards.
"Confidence is a funny thing. It's one of those things that lasts only to your [next] game," said K.C. midfielder Sasha Victorine. "Last game they won, so the confidence they got from that will keep going. It's important for us to get on top early and, hopefully, that limits the confidence they have."
In both of the games since Warzycha took over for the dismissed Greg Andrulis, he's seen his team score the first goal. In the eight games when they've allowed the first goal, the Crew have lost them all.
But where that goal comes from could have more impact for the Wizards. A week ago, the Wizards led 3-2 at halftime against Real Salt Lake. Against D.C. United on Wednesday, they went in down at the half yet recovered to gain a point in the second half in a 1-1 draw.
For all four of the Wizards goals, there was one common denominator: Preki was on the field. He started against Real, though he came off at the half. He was a second-half substitute against D.C. United. "Maybe I'm not directly involved in the goals, but when I'm on the field, the other team is aware of the things I can do on the offensive side of [the ball]," said the 42-year-old midfielder.
"Like on [Sealy's equalizing goal versus D.C. United on Saturday], I kept to the touchline, and when one of their midfielders followed me to the touchline, he opened up room for Victorine in the middle of the field. He made a good run and hit Chris Klein. You have to move and pull the other team out of their play to create space for the other players."
On June 18 in Chicago, Preki came on in the 76th minute and scored the equalizer himself four minutes later, and in the last meeting with Columbus on June 29, Preki played the second half and drew the foul that directly led to Jose Burciaga Jr. blasting the ensuing free kick to again pull the Wizards even.
Then on July 9 at RFK Stadium, Preki was inserted into the Kansas City lineup in the 71st minute and six minutes later Sasha Victorine put the Wizards up 1-0 and they held on for the victory.
If getting an early goal is important, then it might follow that the Wizards would be best served by having the ageless wonder on the field from the start. Yet in the Wizards case it seems that scoring first - they have seven wins and three ties in 12 games when finding the back of net first - might mean more than scoring early. The Wizards have led at the half five times this season, and have three wins and a draw along with one loss. "You don't ever want to go into a game saying you need to score first or you're going to lose or you're going to tie," said Victorine.
"But you really want to put an emphasis on getting the first goal. Their confidence probably isn't as big as other teams who have come back from behind. They haven't been the best team at coming back from behind. The earlier you can put that into their head, it might not be a good game [for Columbus]."
Bob Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.