Two on-field duos and one off-field one shined Saturday night for the Kansas City Wizards, who leap-frogged the Colorado Rapids and claimed the top spot in MLS's Western Conference with a 1-0 defeat of the visiting San Jose Earthquakes.
Both teams needed three points to improve their chances of making the playoffs and the play was indicative of the urgency. San Jose dominated possession as they swept from side to side and in and out of the Wizards' end looking for a chink in the Wizards' armor-like defense.
At the fore of K.C.'s defense were center backs Jimmy Conrad and his new partner for the night, regular right back Nick Garcia. Garcia, Conrad and the rest of the Wizards defense rarely allowed the Quakes a good look on goal.
"I can only remember one chance they had on a corner kick. Other than that, all their shots where from 25 [yards] or more out," said Garcia who spread the credit to fullbacks Taylor Graham and Jose Burciaga Jr. as well as center midfielders Diego Gutierrez and Kerry Zavagnin.
On assignment to be especially wary of constant threat Landon Donovan, Garcia repelled balls meant for the dynamic speedster again and again. On occasion Donovan received a pass and gained separation but failed to seriously threaten Bo Oshoniyi's net.
Meanwhile, quick and inventive strike partners Josh Wolff and Davy Arnuad continued their season long orchestrations up-front with varying success.
"Davy and I have a great relationship. We've got a good idea where one another's going to be. It's a partnership," said Wolff, who had the first strong chance of the two on the night via a give and go with Arnaud. Wolff took the shot after the interchange but pushed it wide of Pat Onstad's right post in the 35th minute.
Four minutes later Arnaud galloped in alone on Onstad before his touched failed him resulting in an easy pickup for San Jose's Canadian international 'keeper. Arnaud and Wolff combined for seven shots on the night but could not deliver. They left that to Gutierrez.
After 81 minutes of San Jose keeping pressure on the hosting Wizards through possession and an occasional threatening foray into the Wizards box, Gutierrez celebrated his wedding anniversary a day early with his third goal of the season.
Running on to a flick from the ever-present Arnaud in the 82nd minute, Gutierrez struck a ball that saw its way past a diving Onstad and off his left post into the net.
"My main intent was to keep it on frame. I tried to go for the corner. The ball kind of skipped, got to me a little bit faster than I anticipated, but I still made decent contact," Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez delayed Arnaud's celebratory mobbing to celebrate himself.
"[My wedding day] was the best day of my life and what better way to celebrate it than by dedicating it to her," he said.
Having disposed of a strong San Jose club and having climbed back into first place, the Kansas City Wizards can breath a bit easier before they take on the Colorado Rapids at home in what will surely be another playoff-like battle.
The Wizards will need as many dynamic duos as they can muster next Saturday as the match against the Rapids will take place only three days after Kansas City takes on the Chicago Fire for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night at Arrowhead.
But for now the Wizards can look back on a job well done. "We deserved the three points. We should have had it wrapped up earlier than we did," said Wolff. "Diego bailed the forwards out."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.