A shift is afoot in Kansas City. The players can feel it. The fans can feel it. And, soon enough, MLS will feel it as well.
On the business side, construction has commenced on the Wizards’ future home, a $160 million state-of-the art facility scheduled to open next summer.
On the field, the squad underwent a drastic makeover during the offseason with 10 new faces added to the puzzle. The final piece – Indian national team playmaker Sunil Chhetri – was introduced to the media late Thursday night.
Kansas City is well aware that it must immediately improve its results on the field to continue pushing towards 2011, a year that could make or break the club's fortunes moving forward.
“Next year is going to be a transformational year for us,” OnGoal president Robb Heineman said in a phone interview. “But in 2010 we really need to start the momentum going, and we think we have a good plan in place to do that. We were a little disappointing on the field last year, but we made some substantial changes to try to modify that.”
Substantial changes might just be an understatement.
Those changes really began last August when Curt Onalfo was excused of his duties and Peter Vermes tacked the manager title to his previous responsibilities as technical director. In the end, the Wizards finished with the third-worst record in MLS after making the playoffs in the two previous seasons.
Vermes spent the offseason making over a roster he didn't feel was deep or dynamic enough. With a full preseason to work with, the staff also implemented a high-pressure, attacking style of play that they hope will turn around the team's fortunes on the field.
“It gave us an opportunity to address some of the issues in a deeper sense,” assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said. “Near the end of last year it was more like plugging the holes of a season and trying to salvage a season.”
With so many perceived holes, Vermes and his staff rebuilt the roster from the bottom up. Gone were Claudio López, Herculez Gomez, Kevin Hartman, Adam Cristman and most of the team’s fringe players.
Almost three months together in preseason has helped bring cohesion to the team. But there’s little doubt that this season hinges on the ability of the team’s new additions to adapt. Also, the young players are expected to take the next step in their careers -- see Chance Myers, Roger Espinoza, Kei Kamara, Michael Harrington and Matt Besler.
“These guys have been around, have experience and have been seasoned,” Conrad said. “It’s time for them to step up and take some accountability. They’ve done that already in the preseason, and hopefully that carries on into playing meaningful games.”
With construction on the new stadium taking place a few blocks away and a new-look team on the field, the shift has begun. The question for the Wizards now is how long will it take for the team’s plans to truly fall into place.
“At the end of the day, you get out on the field and your team takes shape through games, playing together,” Wolff said. “It’s the first game of the season, and it’s good to get it started but it’s a long process.”