Most times, a fast-paced soccer match is a series of reactive actions. But sometimes these finely tuned athletes also think.
Witness the Kansas City Wizards 3-0 victory against Chivas USA on Saturday evening at Arrowhead Stadium. Both the initial tally, a timely 46th-minute strike by the unlikely Jimmy Conrad, and the all-important second score turned in by a newly-inserted Davy Arnaud, were results of clear, conscious decisions.
After an off-kilter first 45 minutes in which the Wizards put only one of eight shots on goal, center back Conrad took down a headed ball from Sasha Victorine and pushed it past a stunned Brad Guzan manning the nets for Chivas USA.
Guzan was frozen because of what had taken place in front of him.
Chivas had just attempted to clear a Wizards free kick from their box when Kerry Zavagnin returned the ball in the air to Victorine -- who the ball-watching eye would have deemed clearly offside. However, Victorine was on, due to a late stepping Chivas defender, and it was his smart header that made the goal possible.
"I was behind most of the guys when the ball was cleared. When Kerry hit the ball back in, to be honest, I thought I might have been off. But then while the ball was traveling, [Chivas back Douglas Sequeira] ran past me, and that's when I realized I was still on," said Victorine. "I saw Jimmy there, and I tried to take the most off the ball as I could. It came in pretty hard. Jimmy brought it down well and finished it well."
Said a jocular Conrad: "In the second half, I came out to help the forwards and save the day and show them that you can score -- it's OK. I hoped for the best, and it went in."
The goal was Conrad's first of the season, and he celebrated with gusto.
Not to be outdone, Conrad's locker room neighbor, Arnaud, took the encore.
A goal on this night didn't seem possible as rookie Scott Sealy was given the start in place of the cold Arnaud, who had not put one away since May 25 against the MetroStars. But Arnaud was put on the pitch by coach Bob Gansler in minute 69 for his usual strike partner Josh Wolff.
Receiving a pass from Gutierrez, Arnaud, remembering some earlier advice from midfield veteran Preki, faked a shot by his natural right foot for his left that sent his defender gliding on by. Quickly and deftly striking with his left, Arnaud steered the ball just off the inside of the far post for his third of the season.
"When I first hit it, I thought it was going to hit the post and come out. My right foot is my strongest, but the defender came in pretty hard," said Arnaud. "Preki always gives me a hard time [because] I had the same thing against Colorado in the first match of the season. He said if I had cut the ball back [that time], the defender would have hit the corner flag. I hit it instead of cutting it back."
Arnaud's keen memory and execution set off an exuberant yell and celebration that rivaled Conrad's.
"I had just come in, it was the first minute and the adrenaline was high. We really needed to get a win tonight, so I was pretty excited," Arnaud said.
Victorine ended the scoring with a timely run and header between two stagnant Chivas USA defenders of an 85th-minute ball from Chris Klein and the night was won.
Playing his last game before leaving to join the U.S. national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Conrad gave kudos to all.
"It was a good effort all around by everybody," he said. "[It seems that] we make one mistake, and we've been punished this year. Tonight we did a good job of eliminating their chances, and we got the shutout and a good, solid win, which is what we needed going into Wednesday night."
The Wizards will take their wily triumph into next week's midweek battle with the Columbus Crew when they will try to gain further ground on the teams above them in the Eastern Conference.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.