There were two battles raging on the Arrowhead Stadium field Saturday night in Kansas City -- the scoreboard battle, won by the hometown Wizards 3-2, and the battle of the rookies, as Real Salt Lake and K.C. each played four.
The victor of the second battle is debatable. But the nod could certainly go the way of the Wizards foursome of right back Brian Roberts and forward Scott Sealy (who started the match), forward Ryan Pore (who replaced Davy Arnaud in the 79th minute), and defender Ryan Raybould (who relieved Roberts in the 79th minute), simply because their side was victorious.
Observers could have trouble fathoming four relatively inexperienced players on the field for a league match, and even more so, using three on the field to protect a one-goal advantage for the last 11 minutes. But Wizards coach Bob Gansler had his opinion and his motives.
"We trust all of them," he said. "It is just a matter of finding the right time and right situation to get them experience in front of a large crowd and when the game matters more than in the reserve league."
The match certainly did matter as a loss for the Wizards would have left them clinging to a one-point lead for third place in the Eastern Conference ahead of the MetroStars and D.C. United. In addition, surrendering a lead to a Salt Lake side who had not won in 10 games in all competitions would have been a major letdown for the Wizards.
Clearly confidence was a key ingredient for Gansler and the young upstarts in question.
"Confidence is the biggest thing," said 22-year-old Roberts, whose start was his first on the season. "When you are confident, you're relaxed on the ball and you can keep the ball. That's what we spent our week focusing on -- keeping the ball and keeping possession as much as possible.
"[In training] I played with confidence, defended well, and just kept going all week long. It felt good to get out there and show what I can do."
Roberts showed his confidence in the eighth minute as he cut to his left near the end line at the right corner of RSL's box and banged a left-footed shot off D.J. Countess's near post. The rebound came to fellow rookie Sealy who planted the ball into the back of the net to give Kansas City a lead and Sealy his first of two goals on the evening.
Pore and Raybould came in to provide fresh legs for the final push and succeeded in the challenging circumstances where one error in the wrong place or being overwhelmed by the moment could have jeopardized the three points.
It was especially important for Raybould, making his 2005 debut, to have immediate success to calm his nerves.
"My first pass on the ground, I made it fine. I didn't try anything too tricky," said the 22-year-old Leawood, Kan., product. "I just wanted to make that first pass and go from there."
And even though Raybould grew up close to Arrowhead, none of his family was present to witness the beginning to his professional career.
"My mom is out of town in New York, and my sister and my dad are in Omaha, Neb., with my brothers. All six of them are out of the coop right now, so none of them got to see it," Raybould said. "Hopefully they'll hear about it. I'm sure they'll regret that, but I'm sure they're having a good time."
All four Wizards 'rookies' wore a smile of satisfaction for the victory in the locker room afterwards where their coach generally lauded their efforts and alluded to more time to come.
"They are not rookies anymore. We are halfway through the year and they battle the starters in practice everyday. Quite often the backups prevail or give them as good as any of our opponents," said the veteran coach. "They are ready."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.