Tony Meola returned to the Wizards' lineup for Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup Final win.
Peter Aiken/MLS/

Wizards thrive on crowded schedule

Once again on Saturday evening, the Kansas City Wizards will take to the field with their collective destiny on the line. They hold a slim two-point lead over the visiting Colorado Rapids with a game in hand in the battle for the Western Conference crown and the coveted home-field advantage in the MLS playoffs.

Moreover, the Los Angeles Galaxy lurk only three points behind -- and the Dallas Burn lay in wait only six points behind and the last-place San Jose Earthquakes are just one off the Burn.

If the Wizards hadn't been victorious against the Quakes last Saturday in a tension-filled 1-0 victory, the Wizards could have found themselves one point out of last place and out of the playoffs entirely.

Yet inbetween the vitally important league matches, the Wizards weren't resting up, they were off winning another 1-0 nailbiter in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final against the Chicago Fire. One can't help but wonder if the Wizards had wished the Open Cup final had come at a time that didn't interrupt their quest for the MLS Cup.

"That's the beauty and the difficulty of winning multiple championships in one year. You have to have a deep team, and when you win the league, when you win the Open Cup, and you win the MLS championship, I believe, like Chicago did a few years back, it makes it that much more special," said midfielder Kerry Zavagnin as he added the third piece of a hopeful treble for the Wizards.

"If you have the ability and the depth within your team to focus on all of them it makes for a special year," he continued. "A lot of guys have been involved throughout this Open Cup run. Obviously, [reserve goalkeeper] Bo Oshoniyi did a great job for us when he was in there (posting two shutouts) and Tony [Meola] did a great job in the final, so that's just one example of how we've been flexible and we've utilized all of our strengths."

The congestion of extra matches created by the Open Cup truly brings out the real quality of a squad and can also bring a team closer together. Forward Josh Wolff, who left the Chicago Fire before the 2003 season having won two Open Cups and one MLS Cup there, knows how valuable a championship is.

"I think this team has a lot of character, it's a pretty tight group -- when we say we play together, we play together in the utmost fashion. We compete, and we have great friendships in the locker room," Wolff said. "I would certainly say the move has been worthy if you can get a championship. They don't come often, and if any comes and you're able to take it, that says a lot about your club and the players around you."

And if the Wizards can defeat Colorado at the weekend, with their unlikely cache of role players and unheralded youngsters all playing key parts in the drama, complementing more established internationals like Wolff and Zavagnin, they may be able to put a two-fisted hold on their future.

Robert Rusert is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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