Rather than try to exprees deep, insightful thoughts about Wednesday night's incredible come from behind victory that kept our dearly beloved Wizards' playoff dreams on life support, I'll keep it simple. Actually, I'll probably do this after most games from now on.
Sometimes, it's just too dificult to come down off that emotional high of a huge win like this and be rational and thorough. Or, to get back up after a heart-breaking loss. I suppose after a loss, I'll hand out the "Sad Props."
With that said, mad props for Wednesday night's victory go to...
First and foremost, Peter Vermes gets my Man of the Match award. It's "Man" of the Match, not player of the match. I've been hard on him over the last few weeks for his lineup selection. Most notably, the decision to play Birahim Diop as a center forward. (That criticism still stands. Wednesday night's game is further proof.)
But, the selection of Diop aside, Vermes was brilliant in this one. I, for one, didn't think he would go with a full regular starting XI, due to fatigue after playing at Chivas USA just 72 hours prior. But, to his credit, he trotted the exact eleven men that took three points on Sunday out against Houston.
Things started not so well. Actually, they started terribly. But, it was the substitutions and tactical changes Vermes made that won this game.
Bringing on Teal Bunbury at half for Diop was a no-brainer, but I've thought there were no-brainers at other times this year that he flubbed up. Also, the other halftime substition, taking off the usually bulletproof Stephane Auvray for a much more attack-minded player in Jack Jewsbury, was one I didn't see coming.
Throughout the year, Auvray has been one of, if not the, best players on the squad. Wednesday night, he had probably his worst game of the season. He was a ghost in the midfield when Houston had the ball and was a main culprit in the team going down 3-1 at halftime. Vermes saw this and got him out of there. Jewsbury came on and played well, nearly scoring a goal himself on a fairly well-struck bicycle kick.
The third substitution, though, might have just been the best of the night. I have killed Josh Wolff between Twitter and here at The Daily Wiz for much of the year. (But, with good reason.) Verme's decision to bring off a midfielder and insert Wolff into somewhat of a second roaming midfield role - much like Davy Arnaud plays - was the straw that broke the Dynamo back.
Five forwards/attacking midfielders with goal-scoring capability on the field at the same time was just too much to handle for Houston. They were pinned back in their own half nearly the entire last 20 minutes of the game, including stoppage time. Throw in the fact that Wolff was the one that scored the 97th minute winner, and I may just have to reconsider my ultra-negative on Mr. Wolff.
For one of the few times this season, Vermes greatly out-coached the opposing manager (and a great opposing manager in this one). Even if only for a half.
Secondly, Michael Harrington was nothing short of the Superman in the second half. I've made it no secret Harrington is my favorite player on this Wizards team. But, I can say that he wasn't anything to write home about in the first half. Likely, it was his worst 45 minutes of the season.
But, boy, oh boy, did he ever make up for in it the second 45? Between he and Roger Espinoza, (tonight was yet another display of why they're the best fullback tandem in the league) nothing was happening down the flanks for Houston. The thing that seperates Harrington from most other fullbacks in MLS (for the record, Mike Chabala is an incredible leftback. He was great to watch in the first half.) is his service when pushing forward.
Though the goal originally credited to Ryan Smith, which came from a Harrington cross, was ruled an own goal by Adrian Serioux of Houston, it never happens without that great ball in by Michael. And, who do you think it was providing the perfect cross for the winner in minute 97? My boy Mikey.
If not for Vermes' masterful substitutions, Harrington is man of the match, easily. Instead, he settles for Player of the Match.
Lastly, mad props to everyone in KC blue the last 20 minutes of the game. After the own goal in 72nd minute tied the score 3-3, I saw a Kansas City Wizards team that wanted it more than I've ever seen a soccer team want it before.
It was truly amazing to see guys like Ryan Smith, Davy Arnaud and Kei Kamara - guys that, at one point or another, have been criticized for their work rate and effort - sell out their bodies for max effort to win every single 50/50 ball and win the ball back when Houston were in clear possession.
More so than anyone, Smith has shown signs of frustration and lack of focus or determination this year at times. But, on Wednesday night, I'm not sure anyone was playing harder than the Wizard of Dribble, Ryan Smith. How many times this year has he gone to ground, in full extension, to win a 50/50 ball? None that I can recall. Against Houston? At least a half dozen times in 20 minutes.
The Cauldron supporters section gave one of their best performances of the season Wednesday, and it seemed to show in the late efforts of the players. Those guys were gasses after expending so much energy to get level. Every time Houston scored, the Cauldron got louder and louder, and pumped the dejected players back up. Little can be said what that mental aspect can do for a team or individual when fighting back against great odds late in the game.
Mad props to you, as well, KC Cauldron. I'm sure the players would echo this sentiment - you rocked it out tonight.
So, what was supposed to be short and sweet became a thousand words on how awesome the second half was, basically. It was a worthy performance, though.