When the Kansas City Wizards heard rookie goalkeeper David Mahoney was going to be between the posts for the first time when they took on the Chicago Fire at Arrowhead Stadium Saturday night, a natural thought came to mind.
"What we said was, 'Remember your first game. Then you know what he's going through. So you do to him what you didn't want other people to do to you.' The words are easy," said Wizards head coach Bob Gansler.
The Wizards actions failed to do their talking in a disheartening 1-0 loss to the Fire that put Kansas City on a possible crash course with destiny come next weekend.
The Wizards weren't alone in their lack of spark though as the visitors played along in the first half.
"The first half was a cautious game on both sides ... For sure, we wanted to go out and be in charge, put our stamp on it, and all those trite little sayings, and get that first goal, which we haven't done in quite a while at home," said Gansler. "And that was the reason for Preki starting. We thought 'OK, let's get the engine revved up a little.'"
Preki, starting his first match since July 16, displayed his usual shiftiness in the first half but ultimately did nothing to affect the outcome of the match coming off at the end of the 45 minutes.
Not that his teammates did any better, failing to test Mahoney with a shot on goal until the 73rd minute. Before then, only a 60th minute long-range effort by Chris Klein caused any palpitations for the uninitiated goalkeeper.
"The most difficult thing for a rookie is decision making. So whipping crosses in there, through balls, a variety of things to make him think, to make him move around [was what we needed to do]. We didn't push each other through; we didn't get open looks," Gansler said.
"You have to give them credit. [C.J.] Brown and [Jim] Curtin played our front-runners tough. The way to open them up was to play faster and more precisely."
In the first 65 minutes before Thiago's 20-yard rolling strike put the Fire in front, the Wizards failed to spread the ball around and dynamically attack the goal. After, they came alive yet they were not any more accurate in their efforts until injury time when team captain Klein unleashed a howitzer from 20 yards that seemed destined for Mahoney's upper left corner.
"He made the spectacular save there at the end," said Klein of Mahoney's fingertip deflection of the shot that pushed the ball onto the crossbar before it was cleared. "To be honest, we didn't make him make the other saves. We didn't execute, and we haven't for a while now."
The Wizards saw their winless streak reach six games, which includes four home games. Klein felt especially bothered at his two chances to change the outcome of the match.
"I had plenty of opportunities to get a goal. We're just struggling to find that rhythm right now, but at the same time we can't lose heart," he said. "Because it's not like we're in the middle of the season. We're at the end of the season; we have to battle for a playoff spot and get there. That's our goal."
Clearly it will take a breakthrough moment of action to send the Wizards on their way to the playoffs as the MetroStars, despite their 4-1 loss against D.C. United on Saturday, can pull themselves level with Kansas City Wednesday night with a victory against the Fire at Soldier Field.
"We didn't play well -- we practiced well all week, and I think we said the right words to each other, but we didn't come up with the right actions," Gansler said.
If that scenario plays out, the Wizards will need all they can muster come next Saturday's tilt with Eastern Conference-leading New England. Meanwhile the Wizards must move on and not let the loss linger.
"We have to put that behind us. Our next test is New England. We have to have a positive attitude going into this game, knowing that we can win the game," said Klein. "We can't continue to let points fly away at home."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.