Was there a more surprisingly solid team over the first two weeks of the season than the Kansas City Wizards? Peter Vermes was a genius, Ryan Smith was the best import of the off-season, and Wizards fans were booking their flights to Toronto for the MLS Cup in November.
So what happened? The Soap Box turns to top Hillcrest Syndicate supporter Robert Houghton, who this week laments on his adjusted travel plans, Josh Wolff’s inefficiency up top and why the Wizards still have a shot at winning the Eastern Conference.
MLSsoccer.com: You guys had the hottest start of the season. What happened?
RH: Everyone was really excited after the first two weeks. I was even looking into getting my passport so I could get to Toronto, based on the way we started out . But the wheels have come off a little bit. It’s eerily similar to our typical summer meltdown that we have every year, it’s just come a little early this time. Hopefully we can shake it off pretty quickly, because we need to get back on track.
MLSsoccer.com: What’s your biggest concern?
RH: The standard problem we’ve had is finishing. That’s been our biggest problem for a couple of years. One the things we saw in those first few games was how big of a surprise Ryan Smith was. I don’t think anybody expected him to be the player he was, and his speed and his ability to take on defenders caught a couple those first few teams off-guard. Now they know what he can do, and they’re playing him differently. And he’s really been shut down in the last several games. That’s a big, big part of it.
MLSsoccer.com: Are you happy with Peter Vermes’ coaching moves so far?
RH: I think some of his substitutions are kind of questionable. Josh Wolff is a good guy, and he’s played for years and been big on the national team front, but he’s lost a step. He just doesn’t seem to have the fire he used to have, and for them to leave him on for a full game is sort of questionable.
MLSsoccer.com: If not Josh Wolff, then who?
RH: I like Kei Kamara. I think he wants to be out there, and we saw that in the last game. They brought him on as a halftime sub, and within 30 seconds he’s got a shot on goal. He wants to be out there and he wants to make things happen. You want someone who’s going to go out there, collapse the defenders and take the shot. We’re not going to score if we don’t take the shots.
MLSsoccer.com: Despite the “Miss of the Century?”
RH: That was the turf. It was rainy, that’s what caused that. And least, that’s what we’re going with. But I like him as a player, he has a lot of energy up front. And I like him in the middle. After that miss, though, I’d like to see him get off of Twitter a little more often and put in some more work on the field. I actually had to turn him off my Twitter updates on him, because it’s constant. Focus on the field a little more, and let’s get the ball in the net. We brought him in to score goals, so let’s see it happen.
MLSsoccer.com: Peter Vermes spoke a lot about having to rebrand the franchise and the culture in K.C. for 2010. What did you make of his comments?
RH: To some extent, we do. The bottom line is, Kansas City fans -- whether it’s soccer, or baseball of football -- we’re fair weather fans. If you’re not putting the ball in the net and you’re not winning games, people don’t care. A lot of that rebranding notion was about getting a winning team on the field to get people interested in the team. Especially with the new stadium coming next year, we’ve got to build a buzz. And winning will do that, but you also look at wholesale changes on the team. We’re a better team than we were last year. It might not be showing right now, but we are a better team. We’re one of the better teams in the league.
MLSsoccer.com: Is the Eastern Conference wide open for you guys this season?
RH: I think so. D.C. is one of the biggest surprises of the league with how they’re struggling. You’ve almost got a guaranteed win when you play an expansion team like Philadelphia. And New England has a lot of injuries this year. There’s a lot of dissention right now because of how we’re playing, but if you look at the east right now, I think we have a good shot.
MLSsoccer.com: What should we expect from the Wizards against Chicago on Saturday?
RH: I think Chicago has a few more injuries than we do, so that should play in our favor. Chicago’s played well, but I think, like us, they’re not really blowing anyone’s doors off. And we like playing at home. We’re trying to make (CommunityAmerica Ballpark) a good home field advantage like we had in our first year there. I think we’re coming away with a shutout win.