Facing an opponent who has lately produced recurring nightmares, the Kansas City Wizards utilized their prime strength to shut down nemesis Landon Donovan and the rest of the San Jose Earthquakes in a 1-0 victory Tuesday night that sent them to the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
"We had a lot of guys making good plays tonight," said midfielder Diego Gutierrez.
The Wizards called upon a varied cast to put them through as the young, the old, the infrequently called-upon, and all in between did their part.
Second-year player Taylor Graham was part of the back four that stymied Donovan and to a lesser extent, Dwayne De Rosario, by marking tightly and providing quality cover. San Jose managed only two shots on goal, but Bo Oshoniyi, making his second consecutive start in goal after being inactive all season, was up to the task in both instances. "The guys did a great job with him [Donovan]," Oshoniyi said. "They didn't let him run at us or anything. Give those guys a lot of credit for really stepping up their game."
With the support of a solid defense and lynchpins Kerry Zavagnin and Diego Gutierrez in central midfield, spot-starter Alex Zotinca and the recently recuperated Igor Simutenkov -- playing in just his fourth game of the season -- repeatedly threatened on the wings.
Despite having spent much of the season as a fullback, it was Zotinca who nearly put the Wizards on top early. In the 11th minute, forward Josh Wolff fed Zotinca with a ball across the box that Zotinca met first time only to be denied by Quakes 'keeper Jon Conway.
The turning point in the match occurred in the 43rd minute as Wolff made his way into a crowded San Jose box and was taken down by Ryan Cochrane. Simutenkov took the crucial kick and drilled a low shot to the left of Conway to propel the Wizards into the lead with his first goal of the season.
Enter Preki to continue the teamwork theme. Starting the second half in place of Simutenkov, the cagey Yugoslav native kept the Earthquakes on their toes defensively. Preki employed cut back after cut back as he created opportunities from midfield for himself and Wolff. In the 73rd minute Preki showed that his passing touch is still lethal as he sent Wolff in alone on Conway to the right of the goal. Wolff eluded the 6-foot-6 keeper, but his cross to a streaking Arnaud was blocked.
Looking to hamper San Jose's midfield and their supplying of De Rosario, Wizards coach Bob Gansler inserted another piece of the puzzle by putting Jack Jewsbury into midfield and sending Preki up front in place off the exiting Wolff. Jewsbury and company did the job, save for a play that wasn't much under their control.
Revealing some rusty footwork, Oshoniyi played a goal kick over the touchline close enough for De Rosario to receive the throw-in and quickly charge into the Wizards' area. Oshoniyi greeted him near the top of the box and saved face by blocking the shot with his body.
"It's just one of those things where you make a mistake and you try to make up for it with an aggressive play. It turned out good," said a relieved Oshoniyi.
As the final whistle sounded, the Wizards sent fists into the air and gathered on the pitch to celebrate reflecting the cumulative effort on the night.
"Games like this are not going to be won with 9 or 10 guys, not even 11," said Gutierrez. "It takes a whole team, for everyone to be concentrated and condensed."
The Wizards will now take on the winner of the Chicago Fire - Charleston Battery match that will be played Wednesday in Naperville, Ill. If Charleston wins, the final will take place on Sept. 22 in Charleston. Should the Fire advance, the U.S. Open Cup final will be played at Arrowhead Stadium.
"A final is a chance to bring hardware to Kansas City. Hopefully Chicago will win tomorrow night so we can play at home," said Gutierrez.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.