The time is now for the Kansas City Wizards as they host their next two matches in the balanced and taut Western Conference of Major League Soccer. The Wizards are only one point behind the leading Colorado Rapids with a game in hand, but the Wizards are also only six points ahead of bottom-dwelling Dallas heading into the last five league matches.
Saturday's home match is a chance to regain the catbird seat and to send a message to visiting clubs.
"We've got to put our stamp on being good at home," said center back Jimmy Conrad. "Obviously, as the playoffs approach, home field advantage is something everyone is playing for; it's going to be important for us to make sure that when people come to Kansas City they know they're in for a tough game."
Sporting a decent home record with six wins and three draws in 12 matches, the Wizards -- possibly still without first-choice goalkeeper Tony Meola who continues to struggle with Achilles' tendonitis -- will welcome defending MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes to Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday.
Currently sitting in fourth place, the Earthquakes have often been rude guests, defeating the Wizards in the last three meetings at Arrowhead dating back to last season. However, the Wizards were able to gain some revenge in the semifinal of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Aug. 24 when they hosted and defeated the Quakes 1-0 at the Blue Valley Activities Complex in Overland Park, Kan.
"We've got to be ready for a very solid San Jose team which plays a very high tempo, very up-tempo game, does a lot of high pressing, and then tries to work off of that," Wizards coach Bob Gansler said of the challenge.
Kansas City will likely employ a different defensive scheme, as they did in the Open Cup match, to shutdown the potent Quakes.
"You have to defend their two forwards (and) their two central midfielders very conscientiously; otherwise that's where they determine the game," Gansler said. "That's not to say that other people can't hurt you and other people aren't dangerous, but we have to be aware of that and hope that we can dictate to them a little bit even when they have the ball. We have to be good enough to determine to them where they're going to go with it."
After allowing three goals in their 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids last Friday night in Denver, the Wizards welcome back midfielders Jack Jewsbury and Alex Zotinca to the fold and hope that the extra depth will lead to a sustained run of good results beginning with the San Jose match.
"We continue to chase our best form," said Gansler. "We're looking to be more consistent. And you've heard that before, and you'll here it again unless we find it. It's something we're capable of doing, but it's something that certainly isn't automatic."
Lacking lately also has been a strong number of backers coming to Arrowhead to support the home side negating part of the home field advantage, but perhaps showing well at home this Saturday and the next (when they play host to Colorado) will bring out the fans for the final playoff push.
Conrad echoed the goal: "Six points, nothing less." Said Gansler: "We have to step forward as a unit and we have to do what we're capable of doing."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major league Soccer or its clubs.