Coming off a strong 2003 season, one in which they ranked third in goals scored in the league and forced San Jose to again perform a miracle comeback in the Western Conference final, the Kansas City Wizards were taken aback when Major League Soccer's schedule of nationally televised games on ESPN2 and ABC was announced.
Not ones to wallow in self-pity, the Wizards have been on the offensive again in 2004, reeling off impressive performances that have many labeling them the best team in the league. But despite their efforts, Saturday's match marks their first -- and only -- appearance of the venerable Wizards on a Disney company channel.
For Kansas City and former Earthquakes center back Jimmy Conrad, opportunity is knocking -- twice.
"I appreciate the league noting that Kansas City at 3 p.m. CT on an August afternoon is the best time to play," said Conrad, referring to the usual heat and humidity of a typical Midwestern summer. "More often than not August is the hottest month, but we'll take it. We'll take our one game, and we're going to shine. We're excited."
Fortunately for all involved, the forecast is calling for modest temperatures Saturday, but that won't be enough to cool the trend of hotly-contested matches between the second-place Wizards and the defending conference and MLS Cup champion San Jose Earthquakes, especially for Conrad.
"[We've] played them six times since I've been here, [and we're] still looking for that first three points against them," he said. "I think Saturday's a good opportunity for it."
In those six matches, San Jose has put in 10 goals to K.C.'s five, but the Wizards seem to have found the key to limiting the Earthquakes' explosive attack as evidenced by their 1-1 tie on June 26 in San Jose.
"Break up their attack," said Conrad. "Their tendencies are short, short, long [passes], and if we can put some pressure on them early so they can't see those long balls, that would be to our advantage."
Demoralizing the awakening Quakes could do much to advance the Wizards' chances for some postseason exposure, but Conrad knows it won't be simple.
"We know that they've got good players, and they're going to get their chances," said the Wizards' backline leader. "[We'll] try to limit their opportunities."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.