KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It's often said that familiarity breeds contempt. But facing the New England Revolution for the second time in two weekends, the Kansas City Wizards are on a sound footing mentally heading into the rematch on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.
"It sounds simple, but when we do get our chances against New England (they've been stingy all year) we have to execute. On the other side of the ball, they have some very good players attacking-wise. They've done a job all year of using all their snipers. We have to be aware and deny them the ball," said Wizards midfielder Chris Klein.
It certainly will help the Wizards' cause that Klein and their two national team standouts - striker Josh Wolff and midfield anchor Kerry Zavagnin - will be back in the lineup. Klein, who is tied with Wolff for the team lead with four goals and four assists, says he feels "remarkably better this week" after sitting out the road game at New England last Saturday because of Achilles' soreness.
In spite of playing well, at times, in stringing together a four-game unbeaten streak (two wins and two ties), the Wizards could have fared even better with a better decision here and a more authoritative finish there.
"We created enough chances against the Revolution to win the game. Against Chivas, we really didn't, but we still had a chance to win that game," said Jimmy Conrad of the Wizards' last two matches, both 1-1 draws. "We put ourselves in a position to win both of those games. If we work those little things that got us on this little run, I think we'll be fine."
To ensure that Kansas City extends their streak, head coach Bob Gansler has been emphasizing the cerebral in all aspects during this week's training.
"The focus has been on decision making on both sides of the ball. For sure, we are playing well defensively. What we have not done in the last four games is created as many opportunities as we want," said Gansler. "In the first two games (1-0 wins against MetroStars and San Jose), it was sufficient enough to win. In the last two games, it was not sufficient enough to win."
The Wizards' play in the second half of last Saturday's meeting at New England gives Gansler and company something to point to when looking to put the first blemish on the Revolution's record this season after six wins and four ties.
"The first half they certainly were the aggressor, the dominant side. They created opportunities for themselves off the run of play and especially off restarts. In the second half we were the aggressors; we were the sharper ones mentally," said Gansler. "It [was] just a matter of playing good soccer: sometimes a short passing combination, sometimes switching the point of attack, sometimes going through the middle, sometimes going wide. It was nice to see."
The best decision makers in Kansas City's recent slate of matches are two guys that will have to figure prominently in this Saturday's match also as they will loom large in negating New England's significant midfield and attack that will be bolstered by the return of three difference makers of their own in U.S. internationals Clint Dempsey, Steve Ralston, and Pat Noonan.
"Two guys that definitely showed their quality throughout this whole batch of games, not only because they ended up getting on the stat sheet prominently, were [center midfielder] Sasha [Victorine] and [left back] Jose [Burciaga Jr.]. I think they played exceptionally well through that whole batch of time," Gansler said.
"Decision making [is] an experience thing. The experienced folks have to lead the way in that. [Sasha] and [Jose] are in with our experienced players. I think Jose, with the ball, has done an awfully good job, and Sash, he's certainly not a rookie, has made good decisions with the ball." Victorine's header off a Burciaga service in the 51st minute was the equalizer for the Wizards in Foxborough, Mass., in a match dominated by chances off of set pieces, an area the Wizards are finally putting things together due to a bigger physical presence.
"I think having [center back] Shavar [Thomas] there helps, said Conrad, who narrowly missed scoring from a set piece in the 13th minute. "He's a big body too - he can clog some traffic. I don't think he even thinks about it, but I don't have a problem running my guy off of him just to cause a little confusion, maybe free up a gap or something.
"Last year, like the last maybe 10 or 15 games, including the playoffs, it was just kind of me in there with Jack [Jewsbury] and Alex [Zotinca]. Now we've got Sasha and Shavar; it makes a big difference. And we're getting a better understanding of the services and where we want them and the guys are swinging in good balls. Once they swing in good balls, it's up to us to do something with it."
With the return of some big difference makers and the prominent core of players who stood out in their last meeting - minus the Revs' Taylor Twellman, who is out due to a hamstring injury - this match will hinge on which side makes the best decisions.
The fact that the two sides are close in the standings serves to heighten the significance of the outcome, especially for the Wizards who trail the Revolution by five points as they stand third in the Eastern Conference.
"We've had other games where we felt we needed to bounce back after a poor performance, or we're trying to put two in a row together, but early in the season, you can make up for those. This is our first big game," said Klein. "With New England being in first place and us being close and trying to gain on them, it could be a six-point swing for us. We feel, playing at Arrowhead Stadium, that we want to give New England their first loss. They're in first place, and that's where we want to be."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.