As the notorious Midwest combination of heat and humidity begins to take root at Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City Wizards are feeling some heat from their mild position in the standings.
However, their next two matches may provide a refreshing respite from the 90-degree heat, the 60 percent humidity, and their current fifth-place Eastern Conference status.
To midfielder Sasha Victorine, the heat is nothing new, as he got plenty of that growing up in California and playing with UCLA and the Los Angeles Galaxy. The humidity is another matter.
"I'm not used to the humidity, and the humidity is what's more draining," he said. "In the humidity I think it's different, you don't get those second and third winds like you did as much. It takes its toll."
Even for the initiated, like Wizards forward Davy Arnaud, Kansas City's weather is an obstacle.
"I grew up playing down by Houston. It's like a sauna down there. I know people say it gets humid here, but it gets really humid back home. We used to take a break halfway through a half because we just couldn't play because it was so hot," said Arnaud. "It gets hot here too, though. Once the summer gets going and you get used to playing in it, it's a little easier. At first, for me anyway, it's pretty tough."
Summer's unrelenting oppression will have all too long a stay, but the Wizards are confident their out of the playoffs if the season ended now standing will not.
"That's a silly premise. You've got not only 19 games to go; you've got 12 against the folks that are vying for those positions. We've got three against two of them and two against three of them, so that's 12 six-point games. Those are the mathematical facts," said Kansas City head coach Bob Gansler.
The Wizards will welcome Chivas USA and the Columbus Crew to their Arrowhead home Saturday and Wednesday in the coming week, two teams that sit in last place of their respective conferences. If the Wizards do what Gansler is pushing for, they should pull themselves up the ladder.
"What you concentrate on here is performance, getting our game up so we can perform, not for 45 minutes, but for 90 so we can defend well at home and score goals. In the last game we defended OK, but we didn't score goals," said Gansler, whose squad is third in scoring and eighth in goals allowed in MLS.
"In our away games of late, we have been the better team in the second half, which is not the way it is according to the book. And we're closer to the victory than the home side. But that's not good enough because we only did our stuff for 45 minutes. We can look at the math of it, but it's not about the quantity, it's about the quality of our performance. And that's what we have to get straight."
The Wizards' 2-0 loss at Arrowhead Stadium to the New England Revolution on June 18 ended what was a 15-home game undefeated streak in all competitions for the Wizards. Forward Davy Arnaud would like to start another string.
"We want to win at home anytime, but especially with the position we're in now. We're in fifth place, but then again we're only seven points out of first. If we can get two wins, in two weeks we might be talking about something different. If we have a lot of fan support, that will help us win for sure," Arnaud said.
A third source of heat has radiated lately as two central figures in the Wizards scheme will be absent for possibly the whole of July to play for the United States national team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup -- striker Josh Wolff and center back Jimmy Conrad.
Arnaud agrees the possibility intensifies the need for success in these last two matches of June for Kansas City.
"When you lose those guys, it's tough, especially when you have everybody here and healthy like we do right now and we're playing two games at home. We need to take advantage of it," said the Texas native who turns 25 on June 22.
Added Victorine: "It's disappointing right now where we're at. If you look at the [Eastern Conference] the last two years, it's come down to the last game to see who is in the playoffs, so I wouldn't be surprised if it happens again this year. It's one of those things where you've got to find your game. Once you find you're rhythm, you'll be all right."
Like Victorine's estimation of the weather -- "it seems like here once it gets hot, it just stays hot" -- the Wizards are looking to put themselves atop a heated battle for first in the conference instead of just a playoff spot. That would be refreshing.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.