This Saturday night, our beloved Kansas City Wizards take to the road for their first matchup of the 2010 MLS season against the San Jose Earthquakes. Kansas City will host its leg of the home-and-away tie on the last night of the regular season, October 23.
While last week's match against defending MLS Cup winners Real Salt Lake was called "the biggest game of the year so far" by fans and players alike, this week's trip to the Bay Area is even bigger for a completely different reason. At present moment, the Quakes sit two places and 3 points above KC in the league table. As was discussed on Wednesday, head to head matchups with playoff competitors are the quickest way to climb the table. Anything short of a draw on Saturday, and a golden opportunity will have been wasted.
As always, I've got three important questions the Wizards have to answer en route to the result they want.
1. Will the finishing improve?
To put it honestly, and without regard for feelings, this team is borderline awful when it comes to finishing and actually putting the ball in the back of the net. Since the insertion of Teal Bunbury into the regular starting XI, the creation of chances and pressure on opposing defenses is there, yes. That goes without saying. But, as was pointed out in the Byline 2 Backpost podcast this week, our forwards' finishing abilities are less than stellar. Kei Kamara, for all his other skills and his great size, is probably the worst finisher of the lot of them. Forget the ultimate miss against Los Angeles Galaxy this year; that was a freak thing. I'm thinking more about multiple opportunities that you see most MLS forwards finish. At times, it seems he gets uber-excited and "finishes" prematurely, if you know what I mean. Just calm down, Kei. We've all done it.
Now, the fact that Kei has struggled to finish this year, yet still has amassed 7 goals on the season makes it slightly easier to swallow. (Hopefully the "finishing prematurely" joke is out of your mind already.) That said, there's a small bone to pick with Ryan Smith. It's rather simple, actually. Dude, just shoot the ball. Whenever you are darting into the box, dancing around defenders and looking for an opening to shoot, here's what I want you to do. Decide when you think you need to shoot, and let it rip one touch before then. How frustrating was it against Salt Lake to see him run defenders raged and stupid over and over, only to take one touch too many and fire a shot into a defender who was given just enough time to recover and regain a bit of self-pride?
San Jose aren't airtight in defense. Chances will present themselves. We just have to learn to finish. We didn't do so against Salt Lake, and we dropped 2 points. A draw here isn't the end of the world, but 3 points are better than 1 any day of the week.
2.When, oh when, will this run of superb midfield play come to an end?
The midfield trio of Davy Arnaud, Stephane Auvray and Craig Rocastle has been exceptional for going on nearly the past month now; the driving force of the team, if you will. Possession has heavily favored the Wizards in that time span and it has directly correlated into an undefeated streak of over a month.
As has been discussed ad nauseam of late, Rocastle was dreadful and out of his head for the first half of the season. Cards, fouls and giveaways were his M.O. Then, it all changed. His holding/defensive/linking/countering partnership with Auvray has given the team not only the boost in possession, but a bit a tough nose. As long as the midfield continues to win the ball the way they have, results are always within reach.
3. Will we finally see a different starting center of defense combination?
Shavar Thomas started and played 89 minutes for Jamaica on Wednesday night. We saw what happened on a Saturday at Colorado when he played a full 90 minutes mid-week and started again at the weekend. In case you don't remember, he slogged along the entire second half and allowed Conor Casey - yes, CONOR CASEY - to run him into the ground, score the equalizer late and what should have been the winner, as well.
I've been holding out hope since the release of Pablo Escobar that that would lead to a Matt Besler start sometime. It's yet to happen, and with the addition of Greek center defender Nick Kounenakis in July, I'd imagine we'll see him start a match before we see Besler in a starting XI again. I'm fine with that. I'd rather Kounenakis over Thomas, given Thomas work rate this week already. Actually, I'm just hopeful we'll start anyone but Thomas along side Jimmy Conrad.