Even after a season of resounding success in which they captured the U.S. Open Cup and the MLS Western Conference title, one thing is clearly evident when it comes to the needs of the Kansas City Wizards in this year's SuperDraft. And it was the final match -- MLS Cup 2004 -- that confirmed the need for more options in attack.
"We were down two goals, and we did not have the offensive wherewithal to get those back in a 45-minute period," recalled Wizards head coach Bob Gansler. "I put my finger on a lack of offensive versatility, not just Davy (Arnaud) and Josh (Wolff) should be expected to shoulder the attacking load, and (Chris Klein) when he's out there. That should be everyone. That's what I'm looking for."
The Wizards hold six draft spots in the four-round SuperDraft with No. 11 being their highest pick. Making the right pick involves doing your homework, utilizing the network, and being a bit of a mind reader. Gansler knows the routine well.
"You prefer to do all of your own scouting, or have someone to be a full-time scout for you, but that's not there, so fair enough," he said. "You go and watch some college games, you call friends and ask them how their players are, and, even more importantly, you ask them what they think of the talent that plays for their opponents because you probably get a little bit more of an objective opinion. That's why we all have cauliflower ears, we're on the phone so much."
Even after last year's success, Gansler could have some significant holes to fill in his first team. But the veteran Wizards boss said he won't necessarily aim to fill all those positions with every selection he makes in Friday's draft.
"I always look for the best player," said Gansler. "By the 'best player' I mean someone who can help us. If there's somebody there that can come in and be our starting right back, [I'll take him]. If not, I'll take someone like a Davy Arnaud [Wizards forward], and in three years time we can groom him and we go from there."
One player the Wizards are interested in is U.S. under-20 national team player and local product, 19-year-old Will John, who last year attended Saint Louis University. John would likely fit in best as a striker, though he can also play an attacking midfield role.
"Will is an exceptionally talented young player and deserves a lot of consideration; there's no doubt about it," Wizards general manager Curt Johnson said of the 5-foot-10, 155-pound John. "We know Will well; he's trained with us quite a bit. He's certainly somebody that we've got our eye on."
But Gansler is not necessarily just focusing on players who play up front.
"If we accept, and I think we do, that everybody needs to defend to be successful, we have to follow with the persuasion that everyone has to have offensive abilities," Gansler said. "I'm looking for guys in the back that can make the play with their passes. I'm looking for midfielders ... that can beat someone on the dribble."
Heading into the draft, Gansler is facing the possibility of a significantly different look to his playing staff this year. Options were not picked up on veterans Preki (who missed nearly all of last season with a broken leg and dislocated ankle) and Tony Meola, while Klein is also recovering from a knee injury that cost him nearly the entire campaign. As well, MLS Best XI midfielder Kerry Zavagnin is testing the waters overseas and could also be lost.
Yet Gansler does not expect the answers to those questions to come from the draft.
"I think the crop is like it has been the last couple of years. There are some good players here -- there are some folks who will make their way," he said. "If you come in here thinking you are going to get three starters in the draft, you're naïve. You're looking for one, hoping that you might get another one somewhere, and that's about it. That's what you should expect out of it."
That also opens up the possibility for a trade, if the club feels the draft won't offer immediate dividends needed. This ploy has paid off in abundance in the past. Best XI Defender Jimmy Conrad, midfield general Diego Gutierrez, and team leading scorer Josh Wolff were all acquired via a draft-day trade of a pick.
"Those kinds of opportunities have just naturally evolved. I can't say, to this point, that we've had a lot of conversation about trading that [No. 11] pick, but certainly over the next couple of days that could change," said Johnson.
Of course, the draft is not the only tool available for the Wizards to find what they desire. With the personnel turnover the team has experienced, some money should be available for picking up a significant discovery player.
"There are some folks that we have had a look at, and we're ready to go in that direction if need be, if we don't take care of things with the draft here," Gansler said. "And even if we get some young players, we may look to get some experience that way. So you can expect that as well."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.