March 21, 2009 Kansas City vs Toronto FC (from

Wizards finish strong after slow start
Onalfo pleased with club's play after 'nervous' opening minutes

By Curtis Kitchen / Staff

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- So many things seemed to be set right for the Kansas City Wizards on opening day to the 2009 Major League Soccer season.

With a sold-out crowd at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, the atmosphere was right. Playing against a Toronto FC team that, while improved through offseason acquisitions, finished its second season last in the Eastern Conference with nine wins a year ago, the opponent was right.

Everything was right, except no one accounted for a self-described veteran Wizards team coming out of the gates and playing tight to start the game. Nerves or whatever else, something had the Wizards askew just enough to allow Toronto FC to steal 3-2 road win at a place many around MLS feel has become very difficult.

"I thought we started the first 10 minutes a little bit nervous, which can happen on an opening day," Wizards head coach Curt Onalfo said. "We settled down after that and started playing pretty well."

In a first half that saw Toronto FC constantly pressure Kansas City's defense, the Wizards survived four missed shots, including two on goal, from TFC forward Chad Barrett.

It almost seemed as if the Wizards were playing on borrowed time, and might make it to the halftime break still tied, until Toronto defender and captain Jim Brennan stole the ball from Wizards rookie Graham Zusi at midfield.

Brennan forwarded a pass to Dwayne De Rosario, who then got the ball back to Brennan, who was streaking upfield from the left side. De Rosario placed a perfect pass to Brennan, who sent a left-footed flier past Wizards goalkeeper Kevin Hartman in the 33rd minute to take a 1-0 lead into the break.

"We had possession of the ball and Johnny Leathers made an overlapping run which ended up exposing us a little bit," Onalfo said. "We ended up losing the ball in a tough spot, and to their credit, they capitalized on it."

Zusi, starting and playing in his first MLS game, took the blame.

"It was a mistake on my part," Zusi said. "They were able to pick the ball in a spot where I probably shouldn't be dribbling."

In the second half, an unassisted goal by TFC's Amado Guevara in the 53rd minute opened a wild nine-minute stretch that saw three goals in all.

Kansas City's Davy Arnaud received a pass from Claudio Lopez and hammered home his first goal of the season, from outside the area, in the 56th minute to bring the Wizards to within 2-1.

Just six minutes later, however, Guevara again found the goal on an unassisted play, this time courtesy of a ricochet off the Wizards' Hartman, who had blocked an attempt from De Rosario.

The final scoring play of the night came in the 76th minute, when Arnaud notched the third multi-goal game of his career on an assist from newly-acquired Santiago Hirsig and Roger Espinoza, both of whom entered the game on substitutions in an attempt to spark a comeback that fell just short.

Espinoza entered for Aaron Hohlbein to begin the second half. Hirsig entered for Zusi following Guevara's second goal.

"Obviously, we are disappointed, but there are positives we can take out of it," Wizards midfielder Jack Jewsbury said. "We came out a little hesitant and a little timid. But, as the game wore on, I think that got better.

"We continually got more chances and finished a few, Davy did. And, it just comes down to us not giving up as many chances."

Toronto outshot the Wizards 6-4 in the first half, including 3-1 in shots on goal. For the game, TFC took 12 shots to Kansas City's 11, eight of those on goal to the Wizards' three.

Though he suffered three goals scored against, Hartman recorded five saves on the night, leaving him just one short of the all-time MLS record held by former Wizards goalkeeper Tony Meola.

"I thought De Rosario did a good job battling and getting himself into position to make life difficult for us," Hartman said. "I thought (Toronto) was very honest. They defended well up top.

"They have a big body in Barrett and (Danny) Dichio coming off the bench, so they are a handful. And, when you have somebody who has individual skills and motivation of a De Rosario, they are always going to be a handful."

As for the second-half stretch that decided the game, Onalfo thought his team might have enough to overcome the rough start.

"I thought we started extremely well," Onalfo said, referring to the second half. "Then we conceded on a very soft goal, which we can't give away.

"To our guys' credit, I thought we fought hard to get back in the game, a great goal by Davy, but then we conceded again on another soft goal. Again, to our guys' credit, we scored another great goal and then pushed hard all the way to the end. I thought we had it in us to get one more and at least walk out of here with a tie, but that's how it goes and we need to move on."

Curtis Kitchen is a contributor to

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