The Kansas City Wizards turned back the clock Wednesday night and fashioned a classic 1-0 victory over the visiting MetroStars. And it all began in the players' minds.
Still smarting from a lackluster performance at D.C. United the week previous, returning captain Diego Gutierrez and his mates made sure nothing would be left to the imagination on this night.
"Tonight was a good example of us coming with a mentality and an attitude and always with a goal in mind," said Gutierrez. "Not only the 11 guys that started, but also the guys that came off the bench had an impact and helped us get the three points."
Early on in the match it was center back Jimmy Conrad who embodied the can-do, goal-driven spirit the most as he outmatched the Metros' rugged yet skilled forward John Wolyniec for high balls.
With the early challenges won, the Kansas City attack began to show they would not be left behind as they gained control of the tempo and the lion's share of strong chances, beginning with what was destined to be a certain goal out of Conrad.
Meeting a swerving corner from Jose Burciaga Jr., Conrad forcefully headed the ball away from MetroStars 'keeper Zach Wells towards the right side of the net. But Amado Guevara was perfectly positioned inside the post to deftly deny the goal.
"Guevara did well to get that off the line. I just saw the replay and I didn't realize he had to do a diving header to get it off," Conrad said. "Kudos to him for being in the right spot."
The Wizards persisted but had come up short by the halftime whistle.
"In the first half we were quite aggressive and got behind them a few times. Some of those opportunities should have ended up in the back of the net, but that's the way the game goes," said Gutierrez.
With striker Josh Wolff and midfielder Kerry Zavagnin away on national team duty, there was some concern the Wizards would not be able to sustain their dominance for a whole match. But it only took three minutes for the Wizards to remove any doubt from their minds.
The Wizards jumped on top when Davy Arnaud finished off a well-orchestrated interchange that began with midfielder Chris Klein cutting inside from the right wing and playing for Sasha Victorine.
"Scott [Sealy] dragged the defender with him and let [Victorine's pass] run through his legs," said Arnaud. "It was a good play by him and a good ball by Sasha. I was trying to get the shot somewhere on target."
The goal was Arnaud's second of the season and it sent the Wizards on their way.
"With Josh and Kerry being gone, we said as a team [that everybody] had to pull together. It was a big game for us. We knew we needed three points," Arnaud said. "When you've got two guys like that gone from your team it hurts, but everybody's got to pull together and work hard."
Goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi and the defense kept a lid on the MetroStars attack including a late foray by the MetroStars' Youri Djorkaeff that Oshoniyi and Conrad teamed up on again and did what they have been yearning to do all season.
"We wanted to set the tone," said Conrad. "I don't think, in the back, we've really taken the reins and just been solid and said, 'Today's not your day.'"
Once again the Wizards had risen from an uneven performance. But Saturday's match at home against the San Jose Earthquakes is the true test of the team's mentality and focus as they will show whether or not Wednesday's lesson has been taken to heart.
"It's just a matter of putting the game together. All the credit to the guys, they knew that we didn't do well enough in D.C. and we had to come home and win," said Wizards head coach Bob Gansler. "It doesn't matter whether it's 4-3 or 1-0. The best of teams are able to win [both ways], and that's what we're striving to do."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.