Present Friday night for the Kansas City Wizards 2-0 win in the Western Conference Championship match were three individuals longing to play out on the field but, due to injury, could not.
All-Star midfielder Chris Klein, Preki, last year's Honda MLS MVP, and first-choice goalkeeper Tony Meola cheered their teammates during the match and later joined in the celebration.
"Right now, it's a sweet moment, bitter sweet because I can't play," said Klein. "It's disappointing because you want to play and be out on the field, but, at the same time, all the coaches and guys out on the field have been great keeping me and Tony involved, it really feels like a group in here.
"And I think that's one of the big reasons why, as a team, we've had the ability to do so well this year. This has just been a real team effort, so I feel privileged to be a part of the team."
Many observers thought the absence of Klein's hustle and playmaking abilities would be the downfall of the Wizards this season after he went down Aug. 14 with an ACL tear in his left knee. Nevertheless, Jack Jewsbury and, lately, Khari Stephenson, along with a cargo of others, have filled Klein's shoes admirably keeping the train steaming forward.
Klein's rehabilitation is going well, prompting the 28-year-old U.S. national team pool player to indulge in a bit of fantasy.
"If we had a month or two more, maybe I'd be shooting to play," he stated.
Playing in only three league matches from Aug. 18 to Sept. 1 after recovering from a preseason left ankle fracture and dislocation, Preki decided to undergo a second surgery to tighten the nagging ankle. Since the successful surgery, Preki has attended matches and kept in contact with the Wizards.
For certain, the two-time Budweiser Scoring Champion would rather be playing in his second MLS Cup than observing.
Opposed to Klein and Preki, Meola's injury situation is not as clear. When asked if watching the celebratory antics in the locker room was a bittersweet moment for him, Meola responded swiftly.
"Definitely not, I'm getting ready to play in a Final. I'm going to do everything I can do to play, just like I've been trying to do," said the 2000 league and MLS Cup MVP, two of six honors he earned in the Wizards' last championship season.
Meola was last in goal for the Wizards 1-0 triumph over the Chicago Fire on Sept. 22 for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title, then his first appearance since Aug. 21.
Backup Bo Oshoniyi has performed well in his stead, earning wins in eight of 13 matches in all competitions. Oshoniyi realizes his spot is tenuous.
"You've got a guy over there that's been on three World Cup teams, MVP of the league, I know he's itching to get back in there when he's healthy," Oshoniyi acknowledged. "Right now I'm just taking it in stride and riding it as long as I can. Hopefully I'll get the chance to start in the Cup, and we'll take it from there."
Meola, 35, tried in vain to play the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal at Arrowhead on Oct. 30.
"I was ready to play the other night. I trained five days in a row; I was ready to go. I came out for the warm-ups and felt something wasn't right," Meola said. "But I don't know if I over trained, I don't know what happened. It was actually on the outside of my Achilles'. I never had anything on the outside, and that one was. I think that was correcting one problem, and then I got another one."
Sounding optimistic about his recovery, Meola looked to Sunday's MLS Cup Final at The Home Depot Center.
"If it works, it works. If it doesn't, Bo will be ready to play," he stated. "The way we're playing defensively, there's not a great deal to do. But the final's going to be a little bit different."
Meola was not listed on the Kansas City Wizards injury report released Monday.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.