Before every Kansas City Wizards upcoming game, I do my own version of the three keys for a Wizards victory. I call it “Three Questions.” It occured to me that I was asking the questions, but leaving them unanswered. I know how much it irritates me when I ask someone a question, but to no response.
Therefore, starting now, I’ll be answering my own Three Questions following every game.
1. What will the different effect of having both starting full backs against RSL make compared to the first matchup?
In short, it made a world of difference. As I mentioned when posing the question, where Real Salt Lake killed the Kansas City defense in the first matchup was predominantly on the right side of the defense with regular right back Michael Harrington playing left back in place of Roger Espinoza, who was training for the World Cup with the Honduran national team.
This time around, Alvaro Saborio found far less room to roam and minus the complete gaffe on Robbie Findley’s goal (which was a handball, admitted by Findley), the defense was nearly airtight. It was, of course, the center of the defense with the momentary lapse of focus that lead to the goal, which Wizards fans have become accustomed to.
The defense as a whole was above their average performance level and did a fairly good job of minimizing the necessity of Jimmy Nielsen heroic saves. Actually, Nielsen may have been so well protected this week that he may not have had opportunity to create an entry into the MLS Save of the Week competition. Well done, backline. Shavar Thomas and Jimmy Conrad played a passable center tandem for the third game in a row; while Harrington and Espinoza were great, as usual, both in defense and pressing forward out wide. They pick and choose their spots so well. That went a long way in picking up the result against arguably the best team in the league.
2. Does Craig Rocastle have another overachieving performance in him?
Games are often, if not always, won and lost in the midfield. Rocastle’s recent rise from mediocrity and its correlation to the team’s much-improved play has been well-documented at The Daily Wiz. While he wasn’t quite as good as he was against Toronto FC last week, Craig came with another high work rate performance and did a good job of winning the ball back early and often.
I’ve said that his partnership with true holding midfielder Stephane Auvray has been the real spark to the recent run of results. Again on Saturday, Rocastle could be found winning the ball in the KC half of the field, then also pushing into the final third feeding of forwards Teal Bunbury and Ryan Smith all in the same counter attack. Rocastle and Auvray have formed a nice partnership and chemistry that one of them always covers back in defense while the other is the fourth or fifth man forward in attack.
For all the flack (deservedly so) Rocastle received early in the year for his rash behavior on the field, he has toned himself down and gotten himself to a level of fitness where he can be a regular contributor. Also, after listening to Dave Borchardt’s sit-down interview with Rocastle on Monday, I can’t help but really start to like him and get a little excited about his prospects.
3. What is the status of Wizards winger Ryan Smith for Saturday’s game?
Smith was in the starting XI on Saturday and boy, was he ready to go. It was vintage (can you call something only months old, vintage?) Ryan Smith.
He was to the Wizards what Saborio was to Salt Lake in the two sides' first matchup of the season. For my money, I’d say no one in MLS has the shifty ability of Smith, or his ability to go, stop, go quite as quickly. When he is at full effort and not jawing with opponents, (and being carded for it, as he was on Saturday) he’s nearly imposible to defend.
What are you supposed to do with someone who can blow by you out wide, dance circles around or cut inside and dash past two defenders to the top of the 18-yard box? Ryan’s assist on Kei Kamara’s goal in the 21st minute was a direct product of his hustle tracking down an over-hit cross in the corner, using his trickery to wiggle free momentarily and putting the ball back into the box. He’s got to be Man of the Match as far as Kansas City is concerned, right?
Anytime you’ve got three key points like that coming into an important game and your players step up to the challenge and answer them like the Wiz did on Saturday, you’re going to get a result. Whether you feel you deserved the full three points or not, you have to be happy with the draw and move on to the next one.