After a pair of subpar performances at home, the Kansas City Wizards arrive in Columbus Wednesday knowing that it's time to roll up their sleeves, work to create chances -- and then to realize they have the ability to dominate their opponents.
Last weekend, the Wizards lost for the second consecutive match in a 2-0 defeat at Arrowhead Stadium by the San Jose Earthquakes, once again denying them an opportunity to take over the top spot in the Western Conference. That extended their winless run to three games, which began when a late rally gave the Los Angeles Galaxy a 2-2 draw in Kansas City, followed by a 2-1 loss to the MetroStars on July 28.
"What was lacking in the [San Jose] game, and has been for the last three to four, is that we didn't come out with the conviction and confidence needed," expressed Wizards head coach Bob Gansler. "Being in charge of the game will create opportunities, and taking charge begins with the mindset. The idea is to impose your will [on the opposition], to be at the throttle."
So even though the two losses followed what ended up as a nine-game unbeaten run and put their opponents on notice, they have to realize that a team is only as good as its last performance.
"What we have done will not get it done [in Columbus]," Gansler said.
The match in Columbus marks the first time Kansas City will play without the player who has arguably been their heart and soul on, and off, the field. Midfielder Chris Klein suffered a torn ACL in his left knee last Saturday during the San Jose match and is lost for the season.
"We have shown that we are resilient," Gansler spoke, before reiterating his point. "Having said that, resiliency doesn't get it done."
Yet, like a knight riding to the rescue, it won't be long before last year's Honda MLS MVP returns to the field and is up to his old tricks.
For Saturday's tangle with San Jose, Preki's name was listed on the eligible roster for the first time this season, but he did not see the field. He's on the travel squad this week for the two-game road trip against the Crew and then the New England Revolution at the weekend.
"I don't know if I'm at the point where I can be my regular self [yet]," Preki said. "But it won't take me that long to get back into the mix."
Initially Preki will probably be used as a late-game sub, especially if Kansas City falls behind, supplanting one of two center midfielders or, less likely, one of the forwards.
More perplexing, though, is how Preki will be integrated into the starting 11 when the time comes. It's unclear if Gansler will choose to abandon the 4-4-2 in favor of the 3-5-2 that would put Preki in the role of attacking midfielder and provide enough cover for his defensive inadequacies.
With Klein out for the season, the picture becomes even more complex. A number of candidates for the open right wing spot exist, including Igor Simutenkov, Preki's comrade in rehabilitation who started Saturday against the Earthquakes.
However, Preki realizes it all depends on Gansler's mindset.
"[Playing time is up] to coach and his decision," Preki said.
Agreed Gansler: "They are not ready for 90 minutes, although I'm sure they would disagree. And that's the way I want it."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.