Categorized | Game Previews

Playoffs secured, Wizards hit Beantown

Posted on 24 October 2008 by khowell

KC hopes to finish strong

The Chicago Fire thumped the New York Red Bulls on Thursday night 5 -2 and, for the first time since their 2004 cup run, the Kansas City Wizards will breathe easy entering the final weekend of Major League Soccer’s regular season. New York’s thunderous loss means Kansas City is in the playoffs for the second straight year.

Kansas City had better not breathe too easy, however. On Saturday they take on perennial Eastern Conference champs, the New England Revolution in a battle for that most precious of postseason commodities, momentum.

From a historical standpoint, both the Wizards and the Revs enter Saturday’s match in unfamiliar territory. In seasons past, New England played solid, consistent soccer all season long, crescendoing toward the final weekend and then peaking in the playoffs.

The Wizards, meanwhile, began the last three seasons with a hot start and then faded down the stretch, lingering until the last regular season match, where their playoff fate would be decided. Not so this year.

Kansas City will take the field in Foxboro with the winds of a late season resurrection blowing at their backs. The Wizards are 4-1-1 in their last six matches and unbeaten in their last three. They scored ten goals in those last six games, which is almost half their entire season tally.

Defensively, KC allowed multiple goals only once, garnering three shutouts over that same period. The Wizards may be sneaking into the playoffs through the back door but, with this kind of late season form, they may also be a giant killer waiting to happen. Saturday’s game against the powerhouse Revolution might be a chance to find out.

New England, on the other hand, will ride a downward spiral into Saturday’s match. Winless in their last five games, the Revolution appear to suffer most from the recent loss of Midfielder Steve Ralston. Without Ralston to direct the attack or feed Taylor Twellman the final cutting pass, the Revs’ goal production dropped off with only four in the last five games.

New England nearly righted the ship a week ago in DC, taking a one goal second half lead against United before DC Forward Francis Doe hit home twice to send the Revs home in defeat. New England won’t want to enter the playoffs with those memories fresh in their minds. Defeating Kansas City at Gillette Stadium would go a long way to clearing the air before their semifinal series with Chicago.

The Wizards may also be down a man on Saturday, with Josh Wolff possibly missing the rest of the year. The engine of Kansas City’s resurgence, however, appears to be in the midfield. Pairing Davy Arnaud with Jack Jewsbury in center midfield might not have seemed like a season saving move two months ago but give Coach Curt Onalfo, as well as Arnaud and Jewsbury, credit. The tireless midfield tandem produced stability and creativity where previously there was none.

More often then not, Hercules Gomez helped put the Wizards in the win column as well. True to KC and Onalfo’s attacking philosophy, Gomez is another weapon on the field, providing clutch assists and goals like the stoppage time header that won last weekend’s game against San Jose.

The best news for the suddenly resurgent Wizards, however, might be the equally sudden emergence of Claudio Lopez. As KC’s first designated player, much was expected of Lopez early in the season but little came of the signing and Lopez rode the bench for long periods over the season’s last few months. He turned it around fast, though, providing a goal and two assists in last weekend’s win.

The Wizards might have entered the ’08 season hoping to dominate the East, proclaiming their intentions of winning home field advantage through the playoffs back in March. That may not have happened but, as the season took a sour turn, the team never stopped scraping for points.

Now the rebuilt and reconfigured Wizards are back with a chance to make a splash in the playoffs. With one tough game left to go, however, KC had better not lose focus or they might find their hard won momentum going the same way as the Red Bulls.

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