It is no secret the Kansas City Wizards are looking to create a more combustible attack. The spark may have been found during their recently completed two weeks in Florida.
"I would say the most pleasant guy up front in terms of discovering something new -- the guy we've been using up top almost exclusively these two weeks -- has been Diego Walsh," said Wizards head coach Bob Gansler.
Walsh, chosen seventh overall in the 2003 SuperDraft after a stellar career at Southern Methodist University, is beginning his second season with the Wizards after they acquired him from the Columbus Crew on draft day last year for a conditional draft pick in this year's SuperDraft.
At that time, it was anticipated that the skilled Walsh would combine with Preki and Josh Wolff to create a formidable three-pronged attack. But Preki went down in the 2004 preseason with a long-term injury, Walsh failed to pick up the slack, and Davy Arnaud and Jack Jewsbury made the most of the opportunity and were a large part of the Wizards' Open Cup title and MLS Cup runs.
"I thought I was going to get a lot more playing time. But it just didn't work out that way," said the Santos, Brazil, native who finished the season with zero goals and zero assists in 15 games. "I thought I had some good games, but at the same time a lot of things didn't go my way. I should have contributed more in terms of goals and assists."
What then did Walsh do in the offseason to make sure 2005 was not an instant replay? He attacked what he considered a weakness.
"I kept playing every day and I was working hard in the gym trying to get my fitness better because that's one of the things I lack, being able to last a whole game and being able to play consistently through a lot of games," Walsh said.
"I think the talent is there; it's the work that I put in. And I've been doing it. Hopefully the results will be coming throughout the whole season."
A preseason of increasing his familiarity with first-teamers Wolff and Arnaud has also made a difference in Walsh's success as evidenced by his assist on Arnaud's first goal in a 3-1 preseason win against the Chicago Fire last week.
"Last year was my first year with the team, and I was trying to get used to the way they were playing. And they have to understand the way I play," said Walsh. "I think things are coming together. I really clicked with the guys in the middle and I really clicked with Josh and Davy. Our last game proved that we're a good team. When we play as well as we can play, it's going to be tough to beat us."
Playing with Wolff and Arnaud, who will gain plenty of attention from opposing defenders, suits Walsh's personality just fine.
"I have to create. I have to go at the goal, at the defenders, and I have to combine with the forwards. That's what I look for when I play," he said. "Whenever I step on the field, I'm going to work as hard as I can to contribute."
So far, Gansler's comments reflect more playing time coming for the 25-year-old as the Wizards prepare for their first real test next Wednesday when they host Deportivo Saprissa at Arrowhead in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup.
"Right now, he's our third forward [behind Wolff and Arnaud]," said the Wizards boss. "So he's been a pleasant surprise."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.