KANSAS CITY - A strong week of training, an arsenal of options and still-present confidence mean a positive Kansas City Wizards side as they head into the match that will determine, in whole or part, whether they will have a chance at MLS Cup 2005.
A win in Pizza Hut Park against FC Dallas likely claims the last playoff spot available in the MLS and the Eastern Conference for the Wizards above the MetroStars. The two teams come into the weekend with identical records overall and against each other, but Kansas City holds a six-goal advantage in the second tie-breaker - goal differential.
"You go into every game knowing that you have ways of deciding the contest in your favor. That's called confidence in your ability," said head coach Bob Gansler. "We have sufficient ability to have won game one and also to win game 32 and any one in between. We haven't always won them, but when we've presented the best version of us, we've been successful."
Concentrated and energetic in training this week, the Wizards covered the gamut in their tactical preparations.
"We've been sharp doing the things we addressed, be it holding the ball, be it galloping off the transition, be it restarts, be it holding and being patient and waiting for the right moment in order to spring somebody," Gansler said. "Those are normal things that we want to make automatic, so that's a good week of practice."
The return of attacking spark Davy Arnaud from suspension and Rookie of the Year candidate Scott Sealy from international duty with Trinidad and Tobago add to the strike options offered by last week's strong debut of forward Antti Sumiala and constant threat Josh Wolff. And although Gansler would not reveal his starting 11, he did indicate that all options would be considered against FC Dallas.
"We rehearsed a couple of possibilities. One of them we couldn't rehearse was with Sealy as part of the picture. But that doesn't necessarily exclude him," said Gansler, alluding to Sealy return after his national team match Wednesday. "We've looked at things, and sooner or later you'll see all of the aforementioned folks.
"Exactly who starts, that's not appropriate to reveal, but just as important are the guys who finish it. Sometimes it's more important because the guys at the end are going to determine the outcome at least as much as the guys who started out."
Even if the Wizards tie or lose, they can still gain the coveted playoff slot, dependent on the MetroStars result against Chivas USA on Sunday.
Of the nine win-lose-tie scenarios involving both teams, the Wizards come out on top in six of them. So the odds are with them. But the Wizards know better than to leave it to the odds.
"We can talk about the significance of it all; but at the end of the day, it's a game. It's 90-plus minutes that are going to determine the outcome. So we have to pay attention to those details, but we know what decides games," said Gansler.
Said Wizards captain Diego Gutierrez: "In the last few years, we've proven that we are a team that comes through in crunch time. We have a group of guys that rely on each other, and we know how to win. ... With the amount of guys that have experience in the playoffs and in big games, I believe that we'll come through and get the three points on Saturday."
"I think the guys are confident that it can be done. And they need to be that, and I think they are that. That's the reason we will prevail," said Gansler.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.