Life hasn’t been good to the Wizards in quite some time.
Following a MLS Cup Final run in 2004, the Wizards slunk to three consecutive fifth place finishes, followed by a fourth and then a sixth place finish.
With a new stadium in the works, this is the season that the Wiz will want to get things on track and start competing in the Eastern Conference once more.
Gaining only 33 points from their 30 matches in 2009, the Wizards experienced one of their worst ever seasons. Coming from eight wins and nine ties, the 33 points were good enough for sixth in the East, followed only by the New York Red Bulls who had an even worse campaign winning only five matches.
They only managed to score 33 goals as well, which is only 1.1 goals a game and was good for the second lowest amount out of any team in the league, second to you guessed it, New York’s measly 27 tallies.
One bright spot was the reemergence of Josh Wolff, who rejoined the team midway through the 2008 season, but didn’t really find his footing until last term. The mercurial striker netted an impressive 11 goals in 27 appearances for the club.
It was a summer of sad goodbyes for the Wizards as two key figures left the club.
The biggest withdrawal from the squad was long-time number one goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. A record holder for the most saves in league history, Hartman and the Wiz couldn’t agree to a contract extension in the off-season and his rights were eventually traded to FC Dallas in exchange for a conditional second round draft pick in the 2012 MLS Superdraft. He had spent three seasons in KC.
Also leaving was former Argentine international Claudio Lopez, who also experienced contract troubles and wasn’t able to come to terms on an extension. Through 57 appearances with the club during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Lopez netted 13 goals and set up countless more.
Also gone from last year’s squad are Lance Watson, Herculez Gomez and Adam Cristman.
Drafted fourth overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, Teal Bunbury highlights the list of new players in town for the Wizards. A standout at Akron University, Bunbury scored 17 goals during his sophomore season with the team, which was good for tops in the nation. Bunbury also becomes the first ever son of a former MLS player to be drafted into the league, as his father, ironically, played for the Wizards from 1999-2000.
Replacing Kevin Hartman in goal should be Danish keeper Jimmy Neilson. The former AaB Aalborg man is quite experienced having made 342 appearances with his old team from 1995-2007.
Joining Bunbury and Neilson in the ranks will be former Chelsea player Craig Rocastle. Though he never made an appearance for the Blues, Rocastle is an experienced player having played for a host of clubs in England. Another product of the UK joins Rocastle...a man by the name of Ryan Smith, who coincidently is a former Arsenal product.
Senegalese midfielder Birahim Diop, Guadeloupe-born Stephane Auvray and Moldovan Igor Kostrov round out the other main additions.
Captain Conrad: With all the new faces flying in to Kansas on the heels of those who recently left, it’ll be up to Conrad to keep things in order in this his eighth season with the club. The unquestioned leader in the locker room, Conrad will need to stay healthy to ensure a very inexperienced backline has a veteran anchor.
Who’s Going To Score?: They weren’t easy to come by last season and with a few key members of the squad gone, namely Claudio Lopez and his seven goals, will the team be able to put the ball in the net? Bunbury is a welcome addition given his goal-scoring prowess at Akron, but translating scoring at the college level to the pros isn’t always an easy task.
New Man In Charge: With Curt Onalfo now in the nation’s capitol, the Wizards have a (kind of) new man running the show in Peter Vermes. Taking over for Onalfo half-way through last season, Vermes led the club to a paltry 3-7-2 record, but will hope to build on that number this season after a full offseason to mold his team under his vision.
Predicted Finish: In a year many people are calling a transition year of sorts, the Wizards will probably struggle again as they try to build around a new, more youthful core. Anywhere from 5th-last in the East should be expected.
Did You Know: If it opens on time in 2011, the Wizards new stadium, aptly named Wizards Stadium Complext at Village West will become the 11th soccer-specific stadium in Major League Soccer, joining Portland’s PGE Park as the two newest additions to the list.
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