One way to keep a struggling side down is to put them down early and not lift the pressure. That's the aim of the Kansas City Wizards on Saturday night, when they play host Chivas USA, holders of one lone victory from 15 games in their initial season in Major League Soccer.
"They're a team you've got to go after and put them under pressure. They don't deal with attacks very well, and they throw up a lot of numbers and give up a lot of goals," said striker Josh Wolff, who was with the U.S. national team on June 1 when the teams played to a 1-1 draw in Los Angeles. "We haven't put a lot in the net the last month or so, but we've got to be aggressive and get the early goal and stay right on top of them."
A simple formula, but one more easily uttered than executed. The Wizards have been underwhelming in 2005, gaining only four victories in 13 matches to go with six ties. In June their early wellspring of goals has nearly dried up as they have recorded three 1-1 ties, most recently last Saturday's deadlock at Chicago, and a 2-0 home loss to league leaders New England.
Midfielder Chris Klein acknowledged the June swoon, but he knows the remedy.
"In the last two games -- one-and-a-half, New England and half of the Chicago game -- I think we got pretty good opportunities," he said. "Sometimes the goals dry up a little bit. Early in the year they were coming fast and by the bunches. You go through periods where they don't come so easily.
"Once we get that first one, I think we have to do a better job of going after them, putting pressure on them by getting the second one, and really taking it to them instead of sitting back and absorbing pressure and then going at them."
When asked if Chivas USA could fold mentally if they go down early, Wolff said it's a possibility -- but added the onus still lies on the Wizards.
"That certainly can happen with them. They have a new coach, and hopefully they've tried to weather the storm," he said. "But we've got to score goals. We haven't scored goals in the last few games. Early on in the year, we emphasized attacking more. In the last month, we've emphasized defending more.
"So when you defend more, sometimes you might not get as many looks going forward. We've had enough chances in the last few games to put up some goals. We just need to keep our minds a little more straight, have composure in front of goal, and eventually they'll start going in."
Wolff and Klein, Kansas City's two top scorers, clearly feel the need to raise up their own struggling side early and not slow the momentum.
"I think the main thing for us in this game is to worry about ourselves. They've had some problems lately, but to me that's a dangerous team," said Klein. "So if we worry about ourselves and take care of what we have to do, we'll be successful against them. If we start worrying about them -- what they've done this season or haven't done -- that's where you get into trouble against a team like this."
NOTE: Prior to the 7 p.m. CT kickoff, forward Matt Taylor and midfielder Francisco Gomez, former Wizards and current members of Chivas USA, will be presented their 2004 U.S. Open Cup championship rings.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.