Although they have played the Columbus Crew twice already this season, the Kansas City Wizards will head to Crew Stadium this weekend and see an opposing lineup that is different from either of the other previous games.
When the Wizards and Crew begin their game Saturday in Columbus, the Wizards will try to break out of their five-game winless streak with basically the same lineup. Kansas City has no injuries or suspensions, not even a player one caution away from a suspension.
Since Kansas City defeated the Crew 1-0 in Columbus on April 29, the two clubs have coming closer to each other in the standings. Kansas City has only two draws in the last five games while the Crew have won three of their last five games and pulled even with the Wizards with 14 points in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Crew will try continue their success of three victories in the last five games with a lineup that could include forward Joseph Ngwenya and midfielder Ned Grabavoy, acquired in a trade with Los Angeles on May 12. The Crew injury list includes seven players who are unavailable, including goalkeeper Jon Busch, defender Frankie Hejduk and midfielder Danny Szetela.
Two of the Wizards' four victories are against Columbus, but Wizards head coach Bob Gansler is not banking on any past success to pull the club through.
"If anything, beating a team three times in a year is a daunting task," Gansler said. "But at the same time there are 90 minutes in Columbus and if we play like we can we'll be all right."
Any wrinkles that Ngwenya and Grabavoy bring should be quickly ironed out because they have played in the league.
"What makes any team feel better about themselves is winning and they have been doing that," Gansler said. "I'm sure they are not concerned about the newness of things. They are dwelling on the fact that they have been successful no matter who they have rolled out there the last three or four games."
The Wizards are still working on scoring more than one goal, which they did in their season opener, a 3-1 victory at home over Columbus. Kansas City has scored just one goal in each of the last eight games.
"That's one of our main focuses," Wizards midfielder Jack Jewsbury said. "Defensively we have given some goals from restarts and we want to shut that down. But offensively we have created chances but haven't finished them off. That will be something we harp on this week."
With a squad that plays as an ensemble instead of relying on a couple of star players, the Wizards do not have multiple players among the league statistical leaders.
The Wizards might, however, be feeling the effects of the three players (Jimmy Conrad, Eddie Johnson and Josh Wolff) who are playing for the United States in the World Cup.
Alex Zotinca, who has played in nine of the 10 games, is one of 10 Wizards who have scored at least one goal. Even when the three national team players return, the Wizards will more than likely be a squad where all 11 players need to play well in order for the club to win and not just draw or lose, from week to week.
"It's hard without the three guys gone in Germany, but we have a lot of talent," Zotinca said. "We have a lot of young guys anxious to get out there on the field. I believe in them, the coaches believe in them and we should get it done."
The Wizards have won twice on the road in five games, so they have been able to generate a winning effort away from home.
"We are going out there with the mentality that we are going to win the game," Zotinca said. "We are going to leave it all out on the field and see what happens."
The key at this point in the season might be scoring more than one goal in a game, even if it only two. In the last eight games, scoring two goals in each game instead of one would have netted the Wizards seven more points, assuming the opponent scored the same number of goals in those games.
Scoring just one goal in a game puts more pressure on the rest of the elements that it takes to take three points every week.
The Wizards have not been shutout this season and won two games by a 1-0 score during the last eight games.
"We're not getting shutout," Jewsbury said. "But at the same time you put yourself in the situation (by scoring just one goal) where you have to play a perfect game to keep them at zero to get a win."
Robert Whitman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.