With tonight's game against the Chicago Fire and the quick opening of the blog here, we'll keep preview coverage short, and go straight to our SB Nation counterparts at Hot Time In Old Town for a quick Three Questions swap.
To mathematically have any hope of still grabbing the final playoff spot in the MLS playoffs, this is a must-win for the Wizards. Suffice it to say that it's win, or the season is over.
Also, don't forget to check out the watch party tonight, at Johnny's Tavern in Shawnee. Wizards and the US on at the same time. It could only be more fun if I didn't have to work and could attend. Anyway, on to the questions. I sent three over - they are listed first - and returned the favor answering my three, which are listed after.
Chicago Fire From Their View
1. I was in Chicago this past weekend for the US-Poland friendly, and the legend that is Brian McBride was honored before the game. Can I please just have your favorite McBride story? Fire or non-Fire related.
It is going to sound corny but this past Friday after he scored his goal. This season has been really tough for Brian McBride. There are rumors he was brought back too early after surgery last year, Carlos de los Cobos' favored lone striker formation does not suit him, perhaps age has just caught up with him, maybe it's all three. Whatever the case, you can tell he is struggling inside too. He hadn't scored a goal in months. He isn't happy with his performance.However, Friday was October 8, the 13th Anniversary of the Chicago Fire and the 139th Anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire. It was a very special night made even more special by the fact we were playing the Columbus Crew. When McBride headed the ball in off a pass from the wings, an entire sense of relief, then joy filled the park. It looked like a 200 pound weight was lifted off his chest. He raised his hands to clap for Section 8 and acknowleged the rest of crowd. Everyone got up to give him a standing ovation that went on for at least a minute.For that night, Brian McBride showed he still had it, the Fire won on that special day, McBride scored on his old team the Crew, the Fire lived on in playoff contention for at least one more day. In sports only one team will be the best at the end of the season. You have to cerish moments like that, times when you are just merely competing. If that ends up being Brian McBride's last professional goal, I can think of few other circumstances where it would have been better.
2. Saturday night, KC also played Seattle, Freddie Ljungberg's former team. I'll ask the same question I asked Dave from Sounder at Heart, only the flip-side; two months after the trade, how has the addition changed the team's play on the field? Still happy to have acquired him?
Freddie Ljungberg has given this team a shot in the arm. His style of play fits in perfectly with the Chicago way. It's hard to define in words (though I try to everyday and never seem to be at a loss for them...), but Ljungberg has it. I guess we'll see how Seattle uses the draft pick but I'm very happy with how he has turned out. He seems to like playing in Chicago and I hope to see him back. We are going to be a pretty young team losing McBride and possibly CJ Brown. We could use him as an all around leader, mentor and captain.
One of the things the Fire need is more confidence. The Fire were plauged by late minute goals all year and it seemed to come from an attitude of players thinking that in order to get something done, they had to do it themselves.When the team let go Jon Busch just days before the start of the season, that really created a vacuum of leadership in the back line. You had CJ Brown, the vet who has been with the team since the beginning, Wilman Conde, arguably one of the most talented CBs, and Andrew Dykstra, the new goalie.For whatever reason the three of them couldn't get a good thing going and we turned to Sean Johson. You can tell that Sean Johnson is better than Dykstra but that is a compliment to Sean more than a knock on Andrew. Even with Johnson in goal, everyone seems to panic and go near the closest threat even if that means leaving their guy. There's no trust, just that rush to defend whoever you see in front of you. t's been very frustrating to watch and the Fire would have 11-13 more points if they would not have allowed any goals in the last 15 minutes of any game this year. About half of those goals came in stoppage time so it's not an exaggeration to say they are under 90 minutes from having a secured playoff spot at this point with three games to go.I think a lineup of Johnson; Kinney, Brown/Watson-Siriboe, Conde, Segares; Ristic; Nyarko, Ljungberg, Pappa; Castillo is a playoff team in 2011. A top team? I don't know, but a good playoff team, yes. They just need to keep that core together or find a player or two who can work in that lineup.
Wizards Through My Eyes
It all happened so quickly, I'm sure much of the league was caught off-guard when we got to within (I think) just six points of 8th, but did so with two games in hand. Of course, the first game in hand was a thumping by FC Dallas on the back end of three games in seven days, followed by two more losses - at New York, vs Seattle. Now, Chicago this evening would be the other game in hand, not that it matters terribly much.
As for what caused the surge to happen, it wasn't a coincidence that we won at Columbus and started a 6-1-3 run of play the first game after Teal Bunbury was inserted into the starting lineup. Bunbury is super young (20) and unlike Josh Wolff, who he replaced in the lineup, he brings loads of athleticism. He accelerates quickly, is strong on the ball and works very well with fellow forward Kei Kamara.
Also, holding midfielder Stephane Auvray was on his third of fourth game back from knee surgery and was getting his fitness back. Up until late, many would have argued that Auvray was the team MVP (while he was playing) with the way he controls the game from the middle of the field and wins the ball back like a defender. It also wasn't a coincidence that the team won exactly zero games while he was out for almost two months.
Of late, though, not coincidentally, the team has faltered as Bunbury was removed from the starting lineup in favor of defensive midfielder Birahim Diop at center forward (yes, I'm serious) and Auvray's level of play has suffered greatly.
2. Josh Wolff was part of the 1998 Chicago Fire team that won the MLS Cup and US Open Cup. I wouldn't mind seeing him back in Fire red. What is his current contract situation and your thoughts on keeping him with the Wizards for 2011? What is the Kansas City Wizards front line shaping up for next year?
I think I speak for most Wizards fans when I say, "If you want Josh Wolff, you can have him." Just make us a trade offer, so we get something out of it, too.
As I spoke in the first question, Bunbury's insertion in the starting XI triggered the team's run, and it was at the expense of Wolff. Wolff has had some great moments at KC throughout the years, (he had one a couple weeks ago when he headed home the 97th minute winner against Houston, but for only his second goal of the season) but his best days are beyond him. Not to mention, he's currently on a $200k+ a year salary.
Now, I don't want to sound like I'm bagging on Josh. He's a great guy in the Kansas City public eye. But, if we're talking pure on the field play, I'll send him to you for allocation money.
3. With the Kansas City Wizards set to open up a new stadium next year, how do you feel it will compare to the rest of stadiums around the league?
Of the people that have been to all MLS stadiums and either seen the progress or plans of the KC Soccer Stadium, (that's the name until naming rights are sold) many have said it will be rivalled by only Red Bull Arena in New York. For anyone interested in specifics on the stadium, or a live webcam to check it out themselves, here's the team site page for the stadium.
As for what it will do for the team itself, it will be huge. Not only will the Wizards finally have their very first home of their own for the first time in 15 years of existence, the stadium is going to be truly amazing. Personally, I work literally across the street from the new stadium site, so I get to see it evolve everyday.
There will be very few stadiums in MLS louder than the KCSS, given the low hanging roof that covers everything but the playing field, and the steep incline in the supporters section, which will make it seem like they are almost on top of the field to players. Throw in the fact that season tickets are selling like hotcakes, and it would not suffice to say Wizards fans and the team are excited about the new stadium. I feel pretty confident saying that it would be worth a weekend road trip to see the Fire play next year and enjoy some real BBQ.