Fifteen minutes after the final whistle in Kansas City’s 2-0 exhibition victory against AC St. Louis on Friday, Wizards manager Peter Vermes and midfielder Stéphane Auvray spent a few final minutes on the field trading thoughts on the team’s spacing.
Vermes pointed to specific locations on the field, describing movement off the ball and the sequence of passes he envisioned to break down the defense. Auvray, nodding, added his own feelings and perspective to the mix.
The message was clear. The ideas are there. But with eight days remaining until the season opener against D.C. United, the execution is nowhere near perfect yet.
“We have strengths, but we still need to work on things,” Auvray said. “We have quality, but it has only been one month that we have been playing together.”
Against the second-division expansion St. Louis side, the Wizards continued building the relationships and trust in one another that the coaches hope will allow the team to integrate its new arrivals to Major League Soccer more effectively.
While Auvray bossed the midfield, 28-year-old English midfielder Craig Rocastle -- whose signing was announced earlier this week -- scored the game’s opening goal and set up the second with a pinpoint cross to Chance Myers. The only two goals in a game played in below-freezing weather and a biting wind at the Wizards' training facility Friday evening.
With Rocastle and Auvray anchoring the space in front of the back four, and Argentine Santiago Hirsig floating in front of them, Kansas City kept a stranglehold on the match’s tempo and was never truly threatened by the visitors.
“The thing I have said about [Rocastle] all along is that he extremely clean on the ball and he really understands the midfield,” Vermes said. “He gets the spacing. He understands how to keep the ball moving.”
That ball movement was especially important because St. Louis spent most of the match defending in its own half, keeping its shape compact and difficult to break down
Kansas City thoroughly dominated possession with forward Ryan Smith beating defenders off the dribble on the left wing and Rocastle, Auvray and Hirsig collecting nearly every loose ball in midfield. But despite the home side dominating possession, hitting the post through forward Kei Kamara and creating several other gilt-edged chances, the first 45 minutes ended even at 0-0.
“They sat back deep and bunkered in and we had to deal with how to try to break that down,” Vermes said. “We had good possession, but we weren’t getting as many clear opportunities as we wanted in the first half. At halftime, we made a couple of adjustments, they started working for us and I think the guys got a good glimpse of how you have to break that down."
Putting the coaching staff’s directions into use, the Wizards tested the St. Louis goalkeeper multiple times to start the second period with Hirsig driving a volley off the keepers body and Myers and Michael Harrington combining down the right flank.
Rocastle eventually made the score 1-0 after Harrington received a clearance from center back Pablo Escobar and slipped Myers in behind the defense. Myers sent a low ball across the top of the box where Rocastle took one touch and buried it inside the back post.
The pair also combined to set up the second goal as Rocastle’s looping cross found Myers at the back post. The third-year man made no mistake, pulling the ball down and hitting and low, driven shot past the goalkeeper with the outside of his right foot.
Without the services of Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff (both in Washington for CBA negotiations) and Davy Arnaud (who picked up a knock against UMKC earlier in the week), the Wizards mixed stretches of inefficiency with periods of complete control. All of which reinforced the fact that Kansas City has a ways to go before it can truly begin scratching its long-term potential.
“One thing is for sure,” Auvray said, “we have a lot of quality. I don’t know how long it is going to take us to exploit it, but I hope we are going to do great things.”
Neilsen; Harrington, Escobar, Besler, Aiegbusi, Auvray, Rocastle, Hirsig, Smith, Kamara, Bunbury
Substitutes: Myers (Kamara), Kostrov (Smith), Zusi (Rocastle)