April 25, 2007 Kansas City vs Toronto FC from Wizards viewpoint (from MLSnet.com)

04/25/2007 12:29PM
Wizards hungry for points at home
Club makes 2007 home debut against Toronto FC
By Bob Rusert / MLSnet.com Staff

KANSAS CITY -- After splitting their first two MLS games on the road, the Kansas City Wizards begin defense of their home field at Arrowhead Stadium on Wednesday against the newest member of MLS, Eastern Conference foe Toronto FC. For the Wizards, if they are to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs after missing out for the last two seasons, home-field success is paramount.

"Anytime you play at home, you can't afford to drop points," said the club's newest signing, midfielder Carlos Marinelli. Said Kansas City head coach Curt Onalfo: "It's very important to establish home dominance. You want to defend your territory to the death."

The importance of winning at home where the fans expect not only a victory to celebrate but a dynamic attacking side to enjoy watching is a given. But add an opponent in Toronto FC who is looking for its first points and first goal of the year, and winning becomes even more of a challenge.

"It's important that we take our home games with a very positive approach. We know it's not going to be easy. We know teams now know that we're a very fast team and that teams will be very defensive against us. It makes it even harder," Onalfo said.

"We have to be able to break down low-pressure teams, which requires us to really play soccer, to keep the ball moving, switch the point of attack, and really be dangerous. It's difficult to break down 11 guys defending. We know we have more challenges ahead, but that's a sign that we're a good team and people have respect for us."

For success in MLS, consistency is the acid test. At home last season, the Wizards were not consistent enough, losing 22 of a possible 48 points with only seven wins in 16 matches. On the road in the explosive 4-2 win against D.C. United and the much more mundane 2-1 loss at Chicago, the Wizards seemed to lack that consistency over the early stretches of the season.

"I think we've been somewhat consistent. Possession-wise we've possessed the ball better this year so far than we did last year. That's a good consistency," said midfielder Sasha Victorine. "The big thing is getting things sharp in front of goal. That usually takes a few weeks into the season before your feeling sharp and getting your opportunities. [We're gaining that sharpness by] working hard in training every day. Curt has been putting us through tough sessions knowing that those tough sessions out here are going to translate into the games."

Victorine has been the model of consistency thus far for the Wizards. Energetic runs, industrious defending, and two finishes in the two games plus the U.S. Open Cup play-in match at Real Salt Lake last Wednesday describe his contributions.

"It's been nice having fresh legs. When I do, I'm able to run and get out into the attack. It definitely benefits me. That's one of the good things early on in the season," the seven-year MLS veteran said. "It's just maintaining it and trying to stay healthy."

The Wizards will try to stay healthy by learning from the tough lessons given out by an astute Chicago Fire defensive game plan that limited them to three shots on goal.

"To [Chicago's] credit, they did a good job of collectively defending. At home, they played low pressure and dropped off," Onalfo said. "We had chances to score in the game at crucial times, and we didn't. And we broke down when we shouldn't have. We worked on things we didn't do well in Chicago, and we're going to bring them into the game on Wednesday."

Forward Eddie Johnson added that there is a difference between this Kansas City side and the one that often fell short last season.

"It was a tough game in Chicago. They had a game plan; they stuck to it and made it difficult for us. But the good thing about this year is we're playing good soccer," he said. "When we go down, we don't give up; we still try to knock the ball. We just have those mental lapses for a minute. If we can fix those small things, we're going to be a very hard team to play against this year."

Who will be running onto those balls up front with Johnson on Wednesday is still a question with Scott Sealy being hobbled by an ankle injury that will be evaluated before the match. Yura Movsisyan assumed Sealy's spot in Chicago. But with Marinelli performing well in the Open Cup match in Real Salt Lake and in the 45 minutes he was given in Chicago, Onalfo may find it difficult to keep him off the field.

If Marinelli starts, expect the in-form Victorine to stay. As for the forward to pair with Johnson, Onalfo gave the options.

"We could play Yura up top; we could play Ryan Pore (a late substitute in Chicago) up top. We're very happy with what Davy [Arnaud] is doing in the midfield currently," said the Wizards' rookie coach.

Count on at least one definite though, the Wizards will be out to please their fans and gain some momentum going into Saturday's rematch at Toronto's BMO Field.

"It's huge. You have to win at home," said Victorine. "For sure you want to play well at home, not just for your fans, but it gives you a base for when you go on the road to have the confidence to play. If we can get confidence and get going like we have, we'll be fine."

Bob Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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