On a night where Preki made his highly anticipated return to MLS play, it was Kyle Martino instead who shone on Wednesday evening as the Columbus Crew outlasted the Kansas City Wizards, grabbing a late 2-1 victory at Crew Stadium.
Preki, who had sat out the entire season thus far with a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle, played his first minutes of the season. He started and played the first half, before Igor Simutenkov -- another preseason injury victim making just his second appearance -- came on for him at halftime.
"It's awfully good to see Preki back out there on the field," said Crew head coach Greg Andrulis. "I know that he is going to help them a lot as they continue down the rest of the season."
However, Preki saw little of the ball. He did have one nice run at goal, and though known his devastating left foot, faked left and cut to his right to unleash a right-footed rocket that just missed the target.
The return of Preki could not have come at a more convenient time for the Wizards after Chris Klein tore his left ACL last week and will be lost for the remainder of the season. But despite seeing their winless run extended to four games, Kansas City coach Bob Gansler insisted: "The loss had nothing to do with that (missing players). We are not into self pity. Injuries happen before the season and during the season and we need to carry on."
The night instead belonged to the young Martino. He drew a first-half penalty kick, which was finished by Ross Paule to give the Crew the lead just before halftime, by making a dangerous cut in the box. He also picked off a weak pass along the Kansas City backline only to be stopped by Tony Meola on a breakaway, just before Taylor Graham scored the equalizer, after earlier seeing the crossbar stop another scoring attempt.
But he saved his best for last. Receiving an innocent looking pass from Simon Elliott, he took a few steps before crushing a well-placed shot past Meola.
Still, despite creating both goals Martino wasn't happy with his entire performance.
"I was just frustrated that we had gone from me getting stoned on a breakaway to them coming back and leveling it," said Martino. Still, he said the goal helped ease the pain. "It feels great simply because that seemed like one of those games that we were going to come out of there with a point. And I could see us coming into the locker room and everyone was going to be furious and I could see it coming ... But for us to get that final goal I felt tremendous."
Martino is also continuing to ease into playing as a striker. "It has been a difficult change. [Strike partner Edson] Buddle makes it easier because he is a great targetman," he said.
Andrulis was thrilled with his team's - and his young charge's - performance.
"Kyle's certainly been banging on the door all night. And he gets the penalty kick and hits the crossbar. Tony makes a good save on that breakaway," Andrulis said. "Good for (Kyle), he's been playing very well lately. He's been a difference maker and I thought he had a terrific game. And certainly for the team to come back that way, and show the character they did and get three points at home, it's huge."
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.