Bruce Arena called the game ugly. Curt Onalfo was more diplomatic route and labeled it difficult.
However a match against the Kansas City Wizards is described after the fact, opposing teams haven’t exactly enjoyed playing them this season. The Wizards have harassed their opponents for 90 minutes. They have applied high pressure to keep teams out of their comfort zones. Most importantly, Peter Vermes’ team has kept the ball out of the back of the net.
Four games into 2010, only the Seattle Sounders have managed to score against the Wizards. As a result, only the Sounders have managed to take all three points from Vermes’ team, and Kansas City is tied for second place in the Eastern Conference.
That’s all part of the plan in Kansas City, where after a disappointing 2009 season Vermes is instilling a squad-wide commitment to defensive responsibility.
“Teams that win championships over the course of the season have a group that can defend,” Vermes said.
Group is the operative word.
The system Vermes and his coaching staff installed this preseason emphasizes defending from the top down. In other words, all 11 players have an active role to play when the Wizards lose the ball.
While Jimmy Nielsen and Kansas City’s back line received most of the plaudits for the team’s three shutouts, the forwards and midfielders have played a crucial role in making play predictable for the defenders behind them.
“The coaches have made a really big emphasis defensively that everybody, no matter who is out there, is working hard on both sides of the ball,” midfielder Davy Arnaud said. “I think we haven’t had that in the past—where all of us were responsible to defend.”
Vermes’ system emphasizes high, strategic pressure that forces opposing players to rush passes, bypass the midfield and play backward. So far, clear passing lanes and time on the ball have been almost nonexistent for the Wizards’ opponents, a major factor in Kansas City’s becoming the first club to keep LA Galaxy striker Edson Buddle off the scoreboard so far this season.
And apart from a mental lapse in the final minutes in Seattle, the strategy has worked to perfection, especially at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, leaving little doubt as to the inspiration for Arena’s and Onalfo’s comments. Kansas City simply isn’t much fun to play against.
“In our case, you have got a group of guys that have realized the key ingredient is winning the ball back quickly and also what areas you win those balls in and what kind of spots result in more chances,” Vermes said.
And although those chances are coming—Kansas City is second in the league in shots on goal—the side still needs to turn their defensive pressure into more goals. After scoring four goals against D.C. United to open the season, the Wizards have scored just one goal in their last three matches.
Not that Vermes is overly worried—as long as Kansas City continue to defend as a unit, keep the ball out of the back of the net and force turnovers high up the field.
“When a team commits to defending,” he said, “they start to see the fruits of their labor.”