The Full 90

The Wizards at Halfway, Part 3: Have the Wizards Turned the Corner?

It seems that optimism has returned to fans of the Kansas City Wizards.

Thanks to a recent run of good form, the Wizards ended July with a winning record (3-2-1 in all games). This is only the second time this year that the Wizards have closed a month with more wins than losses. (The other? March. When they won the only game they played.)

So, is the team better today than they were on June 30th?

Editor’s Note: As we sit at (just beyond) the halfway point of the MLS season, let’s take a look at what worked and the obviously bigger issue of what hasn’t worked. Today we will deal with a problem that the team seems actively trying to solve: The puny offense.

I. You Have to Admit Things Are Getting Better...

If you judge solely on results (and that’s really a great way to judge in my opinion), then yes, the team has improved. They beat Columbus on the road, bested fellow mid-table foe Toronto at home and drew Colorado on the road. Then there was that Manchester United game everyone seemed to talk about.

If you’re judging by the goals the team has allowed (as we discussed in

part one of this examination

), it would appear the soft goals have lessened. In the month of July, the Wizards allowed five goals in all competitions. Two of those goals were from the penalty spot (one for FC Dallas and one for Man United), one of those goals came from the run of play (Conor Casey’s equalizer in Colorado) and two of them were soft goals (both during the Chivas game).*

*In all fairness, those two soft goals came almost a month ago. It’s hard to say the softness has alleviated, but it’s gotten better.

If you’re judging by pressure-forced turnovers and locking down the other team’s attacking impact (as we discussed in

part two of this examination

) then the team has also gotten better. Two goals in the last four games illustrates that nicely.

But if you’re judging on goals scored -- the best evaluation for success in the short and long term -- the team still have a lot of room for improvement.

For as good as July seems to have been, the team only scored three league goals.

II. Goals? Who Needs Goals?

You don’t need a fancy analysis by someone like me to know that if a team doesn’t score goals, it’s not going to win a lot of games.

The Kansas City Wizards don’t score a lot of goals. Seventeen games into the season, the team has only scored 14 goals. That’s an average of 0.82 per game. (

We covered this topic in detail a few weeks ago

. Things haven’t changed that much since.)

If the team doesn’t find a consistent goal scorer soon, and the average holds over the last 13 games, the Wizards will tie Toronto FC’s season record for goal-scoring futility at 25 goals on the season. (Point of consolation: If D.C. continues on their pace, they’ll shatter the record with only 20 goals.)

III. Why Teal Bunbury Matters

On July 10, Kansas City lost 2-0 to Chivas USA. They dominated the game: KC had 20 shots on goal (to Chivas’ 8) and 14 corner kicks (to Chivas’ 1).

But they couldn’t capitalize on any of their scoring chances.

The 4-3-3 formation that Peter Vermes utilizes requires a central forward that can pull a defense out of shape using either strength on the ball or speed off it.

The two starters most of the season were Josh Wolff and Kei Kamara. Wolff can no longer perform those two tasks (but showed last week he can might have an impact as a left-wing sub) and, while Kamara has speed and strength (and leads the team in scoring) he doesn’t pull the defense out of shape.

Rookie Teal Bunbury is strong on the ball, fast off it and does in fact pull defenders out of shape.

Exhibit A: The kind of goal KC wants to score all the time.

Bunbury holds up the ball, makes a simple pass on the carpet and, as two defenders close down on him, Davy Arnaud shoots the gap between them.

Exhibit B: The kind of goal that makes Bunbury special. Get Microsoft Silverlight

Toronto can call this “luck,” but it takes a supreme amount of skill to make realize that playing the ball to his feet would’ve resulted in a missed chance.

But as good as Bunbury has been the last few games, the team needs more.

IV. Why Isn’t Teal Enough?

Does Bunbury have a ton of potential? Yes. Do I think he’ll be one of the better strikers in the league someday? Yes.

Is he a cultured striker with a proven track record of putting the ball into the back of the net?

Not yet. Which is why the team should continue to look at players like Omar Bravo and Dayro Moreno and Eidur Gudjohnsen.*

*As of this writing, Moreno and Gudjohnsen seem like long shots for Kansas City. Bravo still remains a bit of a mystery. Of course, I’ve heard rumblings there will be something coming next week.

When I asked Wizards president Robb Heineman about designated players and new signings, he talked about improving the talent at the top, making the team’s top six players better than they are right now.*

*Heineman said something very instructive about their DP plans. We were talking about Gudjohnsen at the time. “Selling tickets is important. But winning is definitely most important aspect for us. ... (We want a DP) that can help on the field. Gudjohnsen won’t sell tickets. But if he scores a lot of goals, that sells tickets.”

It’s a business strategy. If you can bring in talent at the top level, this pushes your current top talent to the middle, which pushes the middle to the bottom and the bottom out the door. In other words: Shavar Thomas (new starter) > Matt Besler (on the bench) > Aaron Hohlbein (on loan in the USSF D-2) > Pablo Escobar (no longer with the team). (Nikos Kounenakis fits in there somewhere, but we’ve yet to see how he plays in this league.)

If the team were to sign Bravo as a designated player, you would likely see this movement: Bravo (new starter) > Bunbury (spot starter, attacking sub, still develops into a stud) > Wolff (situational substitute, great depth player) > Birahim Diop (decent practice squad guy, doesn’t come on the field when team is hunting a goal anymore).

While that type of movement would appear to stunt the growth of Bunbury on the surface, it likely improves the team as a whole. And, if the team as a whole improves, the chances of Bunbury learning and getting better increases.

The simple fact is this: With Smith, Wolff, Kamara, Arnaud and Bunbury has the five leading attackers, the team has only scored 14 goals. (Remember, that’s only better than D.C. United this year.)

If you’re judging a team’s talent level based on goals scored -- the best evaluation for success in the short and long term -- the team still has a lot of room for improvement.

Further Reading

Part 1: Cracks in the Foundation

Part 2: The Pressure Returns