KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Fresh off back-to-back defeats, the Wizards hope consistency in their starting lineup can help solve the inconsistency that has plagued the team on the field this season.
When the Wizards take on the first-place Crew on Wednesday night in Columbus, manager Peter Vermes will have close to his full complement of players available for selection for the first time since the beginning of the season.
Starters Roger Espinoza, Stephane Auvray and Davy Arnaud all have missed significant time this season through National Team duty, injury and suspension. Kansas City have also used four different central defenders – Matt Besler, Pablo Escobar, Aaron Hohlbein and the recently acquired Shavar Thomas – next to veteran stalwart Jimmy Conrad.
The result has been a 3-8-3 record and struggles on both sides of the ball.
“I think being able to have the same people next to you game in and game out makes a big difference," Conrad said. "You become familiar with their movements, with their decision-making and you can start anticipating, becoming sharper and sniffing stuff out a little quicker.”
With Thomas partnering Conrad for the last two games and Espinoza slotting back into his customary left back position, Kansas City have improved defensively even if that hasn’t immediately led to points.
Vermes, who is constantly working to build the roster even more, said it helps to have the full arsenal at his disposal, but warned it could take time for all the pieces to return to preseason form after extended periods away from the team for various reasons.
“There is still a lack of continuity because they are all coming back from something," Vermes said. "They’re still not all connected. So it’s also having a little patience as we move forward.”
At this point, patience might be a little hard to come by. The Wizards’ 2-1-1 start is ancient history, and the side has gone a disappointing 1-7-2 since drawing the Los Angeles Galaxy 0-0 on April 24 at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
And things don’t get any easier this week with a midweek trip to Columbus leading into a weekend game at altitude in Colorado.
Assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin, hardened by some tough stretches of his own during his playing days in Major League Soccer, said stability is certainly important in the team-building process, but not the end-all-be-all to success.
“When you are going through a bit of a storm like we are at the moment, it’s important that you try to find consistency but not be afraid to have some flexibility within that,” he said.
At this point, the Wizards have no choice but to go with whatever works.
Apart from the two defensive mistakes that gifted Justin Braun two goals and Chivas USA three points, Kansas City dominated proceedings last weekend at home. That won't be so easy with games against two playoff contenders looming.
Not that the Wizards have given up hope. After all, the only thing consistent about the team this season has been inconsistency.
“We’re a few soft goals away and a few goals going for us from being a pretty solid team,” Conrad said. “We’re not as bad as our record indicates, and we are embarrassed that we are where we are.”