By Seth Vertelney
Heading into 2009, the Kansas City Wizards will look quite a bit
different from the version that entered 2008, as this year marked the
departures of club veterans Nick Garcia, Jose Burciaga Jr., Scott
Sealy, Sasha Victorine, and Kerry Zavagnin.
In their place, the club turned to youth on the defensive end, and
experience on the attacking side of the ball. While veterans like
Davy Arnaud, Josh Wolff, and Claudio Lopez were heavily relied upon for offense, the defense did not feature a single player over the age of
24, save for veteran stalwart Jimmy Conrad. The results were mixed,
as the team struggled through most of the season before a late surge
earned a second consecutive playoff berth.
In March, the Wizards added veteran forward/midfielder Claudio Lopez as their first ever designated player spot and the results were decidedly mixed. Lopez was influential in attack for the first half of the season, but slowed down as the campaign wore on, as 34 year-olds are wont to do. There will be legitimate questions this off-season as to whether Lopez will be able to produce at an above-average level again in 2009.
The Wizards, like many MLS sides, struggled to earn points on their travels, winning just two games out of 15 away. However, they enjoyed a unique home field advantage at the baseball stadium masquerading as a soccer pitch known as CommunityAmerica Ballpark. The close proximity of supporters to the field and the abnormally small pitch size helped Kansas City to a 9-2-4 home record.
In the end, a lack of offensive firepower did the 'Zards in. Their lone goal in two playoff matches was a microcosm of their attacking deficiencies all season long. They scored 37 goals in 30 league games, good for 12th out of 14 teams. To take the next step in 2009, the Wizards will have to address this problem, but first, let's look back at 2008:
January: Just days before the 2008 SuperDraft, the Wizards trade club mainstays Nick Garcia and Jose Burciaga Jr. in deals which net them the first overall pick and a second round pick respectively. The club uses their first overall pick on Chance Myers, a defender/midfielder from UCLA. Roger Espinoza and Jonathan Leathers are the other two selections from the 2008 SuperDraft to have an impact in their rookie season. A week after the SuperDraft, 2007 leading scorer Eddie Johnson departs for Fulham of the EPL in a move which so far, could be politely described as unfruitful.
February: After impressing during an open tryout, midfielder Kevin Souter is invited to train with the team and accompany them on their travels to Argentina. Souter eventually earns a roster spot and starts every game in October, as well as the two playoff games against Columbus.
March: Claudio Lopez signs on as the club's first ever designated player. The 33 year-old Argentinian once held the title of most expensive player in the world after a 2000 transfer from Valencia to Lazio. The Wizards defeat D.C. United 2-0 in the season opener, which also marks the first ever match at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, the club's temporary home for the at least the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Record: 1 win, 0 ties, 0 losses.
April: Jack Jewsbury's goal in the fourth minute at Chicago stands up as the Wizards move into first place after a 1-0 victory. The good times don't last, however, as an Amado Guevara brace knocks the 'Zards out of first the following game, a 2-0 defeat in Toronto. Record: 2 wins, 1 tie, 2 losses.
May: Kansas City earns only a single point from three league road games in May, including a 2-1 loss to first-place Columbus on May 3rd. Record: 0 wins, 1 tie, 2 losses.
June: Two road draws and a home defeat to Columbus extend the Wizards' league winless streak to seven games and drops them to last
place in the Eastern Conference. The team's offensive deficiencies are highlighted in June, as they score just one goal in four league matches. Record: 2 wins, 2 ties, 1 loss.
July: After defeating USL-1 side Carolina in the round of 16, the Wizards bow out of the U.S. Open Cup after a 6-5 penalty kick shootout loss to the Seattle Sounders, also from USL-1. Former Wizard Josh Wolff returns to the team after completing his contract with German second division side 1860 Munich. Defender Jimmy Conrad makes his fifth consecutive All Star Game appearance as the lone representative from the Wizards. Record: 2 wins, 3 ties, 1 loss.
August: The Wizards open August with a 2-0 loss at D.C. United, their first league loss in nearly two months. Two more losses in the month, including a 1-0 loss at San Jose to close out August, mean the 'Zards enter September at the foot of the Eastern Conference table. Record:
1 win, 1 tie, 3 losses.
September: A roster shakeup at the beginning of the month starts to change the Wizards' fortunes. The club acquires Herculez Gomez and Abe Thompson to try to awaken their slumbering attack, and jettison veteran midfielder Sasha Victorine to Chivas U.S.A. for allocation money. The moves pay immediate dividends, as a pair of 2-0 home victories over Los Angeles and Toronto put Kansas City right back in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase. Record: 2 wins, 0
ties, 2 losses.
October: Kansas City saves its best for last. The 'Zards wins three league matches in a month for the first time all season. A dramatic late winner from Herculez Gomez against San Jose puts the club in pole position for a playoff berth, which is secured when the Red Bulls lose 5-2 to the Fire a few days later. A 3-1 win at New England, their first road victory since April, is the icing on the cake to a sweet October for Kansas City. Record: 3 wins, 1 tie, 0 losses.
November: Leading 1-0 in the first leg of their first round playoff match up against Columbus, Herculez Gomez's red card is the turning point in the series. Ten-man Kansas City concede a late equalizer to Steven Lenhart, then go on to lose 3-0 in the return leg at Columbus, finishing their season. The penultimate month of the year also produces some good news for the Wizards, as they acquire 2007 Rookie of the Year finalist Adam Cristman from New England. More importantly, the final piece of financing is approved for a new stadium, putting Kansas City on track to have a new home by the 2010 season. Record: 0 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss.
December: After retiring following the 2008 season, the club announces Kerry Zavagnin will return to the team as an assistant coach for the 2009 season. Zavagnin played nine seasons with the team.
Seth Vertelney is a regular contributor to Goal.com