MLSsoccer.com will break down the Wizards’ season in three-match blocks during the Major League Soccer regular season. Consider it 10 quick glimpses into Kansas City’s season, each of which will play a critical role in the team’s quest to return to the playoffs.
Tied for second in Eastern Conference (2-1-0, six points)
March 27 vs. D.C. United – 4-0 victory
April 10 vs. Colorado Rapids – 1-0 victory
April 17 at Seattle Sounders – 1-0 defeat
April 24 vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (4-0-0, 12 points)
May 1 at Houston Dynamo (2-1-1, seven points)
May 5 at D.C. United (0-4-0, zero points)
Player to remember: Ryan Smith (one goal, two assists)
Think the Wizards are feeling good about plucking the Smith from the lower depths of English football? The young winger has stepped in to provide the attacking thrust and verve that was missing for much of last season.
Smith won’t keep up his current pace as teams put more and more focus on stopping him, but it would be a surprise if he didn’t com close to matching or passing Claudio López’s output from a year ago (seven goals, eight assists).
Player to watch: Josh Wolff
Wolff hasn’t looked completely comfortable playing in the middle as the lone forward and focal point of the Wizards attack. So much so that manager Peter Vermes has made an in-game adjustment to move the veteran striker wide right more than once this year.
The good news is that Wolff has been much more active and dangerous in that role, tucking in behind the center forward and connecting with Michael Harrington. The Wizards need him to get going -- Wolff led the team in scoring a year ago -- or the attack may begin to stall without enough contributors.
Two things that went right…
1) Home form: This was always going to be a focus after a dreadful 2009 season at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. So far, Kansas City has taken care of business. Now comes a high-profile clash with the league’s best team.
The Wizards will have a significantly stiffer task at CAB this weekend when Landon Donovan and the red-hot LA Galaxy come to town. Kansas City grabbed three points on López’s goal from just inside the half last season, but this Galaxy team has been nearly unstoppable so far.
2) Defense: Vermes’ squad is tied with Los Angeles, unsurprisingly, for the title of Major League Soccer’s stingiest team. Both have allowed one goal thus far, although the Galaxy have played one more game.
That’s an encouraging sign for Kansas City as Jimmy Conrad is the only member of the line with more than three years experience in MLS. Even still, Pablo Escobar looks like an early find and the other young cogs and falling in place nicely.
Two things that went wrong…
1) Extra time at Seattle: It couldn’t all be sunshine for the Wizards to start the season, and unfortunately the clouds came out over Seattle. Kansas City seemed to be in line for a sure road point -- and possible victory depending on the bounces -- but substitute Michael Fucito wasn’t having any of that.
One darting run in stoppage time behind Kansas City’s defense undid an entire match worth of solid defensive effort against one of most talented squads in the league. Thankfully, the Wizards still have much to take from the match, including a valuable lesson about how tenuous results can be on the road.
2) U.S. Open Cup: Playing in Kansas City on the campus of UMKC, the hope was the Wizards would be able to advance to the next qualifying round of the Cup and possibly press on for more. Unfortunately, those dreams disappeared following two Wells Thompson goals.
The real tragedy though is that Vermes lost a valuable tool to continue to develop his squad from spots 12 and up. The only competitive matches on the horizon for Kansas City are regular season games.
Los Angeles will be a real test, but Kansas City will be back at home and driven by plenty of motivation after last weekend’s late miscue. The Wizards need to reignite their offense after 180 minutes and only one goal, but the real question is whether anyone can stop Edson Buddle right now.
Playing at Houston won’t be a cakewalk either, but at least the Wizards will avoid the midsummer heat. D.C. doesn’t figure to be a friendly place either with the locals desperate for points and the staff and players eager to avenge the early rout.
From the early looks of it, four points wouldn’t be a bad haul for three matches with two on the road. Six or seven isn’t out of the question either, which would leave the Wizards in prime position a fifth of the way through the regular season.