The Kansas City Wizards 2010 season didn't begin with the highest expectations.
In 2009, the team fired coach Curt Onalfo in August and limped to a disappointing 8-14-9 finish.
During the offseason, the front office turned over the reigns to Peter Vermes full time and gave him the full preseason to implement a new training regiment, a new formation and a new style of play. The roster underwent a foreign-player overhaul.
As the season approached, a quiet storm of positivity began to brew. The new formation and the new style of play immediately paid dividends, as the team dispatched D.C. United in clinical fashion, 4-0. After a convincing 1-0 victory over Colorado in the next game, the storm got louder. The team would finish April 2-1-1 and there was buzz. The only blip was a last-second loss on the road.
But... then inconsistency took over. The positives drained away and the team vacillated back and forth. They were Jekyll and Hyde on the pitch the rest of the way out. They managed to take four points from the regular season champ LA Galaxy but suffered a nine-game winless streak. They lost to D.C. United 2-1, but beat Manchester United 2-1. They were the hottest team in soccer for a month and then they weren't.
There are a few main causes you could unearth to explain this: The team was overhauled in the offseason and took awhile to gel, Zoltan's knee injury depleted striking depth, the team seemed allergic to goal scoring during several stretches and a somewhat stunning habit of allowing soft goals kept recurring.
But despite these inconsistencies (and how the position they finished in the table) the Kansas City Wizards were pretty damn close to being a good team.
Yes, I said good.
Yes, I realize this is a common lamentation of a loser, trying to rationalize that, with a bounce and a bounce there, things could've been drastically different.
I said good.
First, here are facts I can't dispute:
• Kansas City finished with more losses than wins and missed the playoffs.
• Managed a relatively mundane +1 goal differential and an even-more mundane average of 1.2 goals per game.
• Led the league in shots (393) and shots on goal (169), but were 10th in goals scored (36).
• Suffered a 1-6-3
But I still firmly believe this team wasa bounce or two away
from being a good team. And a little bit better in five games would've had them in a much better spot at the end of the year. The five games:April 17: Seattle 1, Kansas City 0
The first signs of a cracked foundation: Jimmy Conrad limped off early in the game with a calf injury and left the central defense in the hands of Pablo Escobar and Matt Besler. The young defenders held it together, for a while, then a lack of communication in stoppage-time allowed Seattle's Mike Fucito to slip past them on a throw-in (which was taken at least 10 yards in advance of where the ball went out*) and blast the winner past Jimmy Nielsen.*Yeah, I'm probably not gonna let that go. Ever.
A nil-nil draw in Seattle would've been a very good result. Instead, the 1-0 loss was a portent of what was to come in the Houston game three weeks later. It's worth noting that Escobar didn't survive the season.
Points left on the table: 1.April 24: Kansas City 0, Los Angeles 0
This is the ultimate "What If" game for the '10 season. What if Kei Kamara actually
converted a six-inch sitter instead of falling to the ground and punching it into the back of the net? If he converts that goal, KC beats the league's best team and earns a very important three points at home. Perhaps more important was the month that followed this game. The Wizards didn't earn three points again until June 10, when they beat expansion Philadelphia 2-0 at home. The team earned 1 point between the LA game and the Philadelphia game. Yeah, I'm pretty sure there's a connection there.
Points left on the table: 2.July 10: Kansas City 0, Chivas USA 2
What's worse? Losing a game in which you took 20 shots, dominated possession, created more scoring chances by a large margin and were facing a substitute goalkeeper OR
losing a game -- at home -- to a team that hadn't won a game in a month and finished last in the Western Conference?
You're right, both of those suck.
The Wizards made a move to solidify their back-line by bringing back Shavar Thomas to pair with Conrad. They weren't on the same page in this game and a botched clearance and an errant pass between those two led to both Justin Braun goals for Chivas. On the other end, the Wizards took 20 shots ... less than a third of them were remotely dangerous.
The team needed these three points. Needed like a little kid needs Halloween candy or Lady Gaga needs media attention.
Points left on the table: 3.Oct. 2: New York 1, Kansas City 0
Then there was this: "26 shots but 0 goals" pretty much sums up the season in one depressing set of quotation marks. Of course, this game's only goal came after Conrad was stripped of the ball in his own penalty area. Of course it did. Soft goals were the team's zombie attack. Just when you thought they went away, they came back to ruin everything.
Points left on the table: 1.Oct. 16: New England 1, Kansas City 0
It's fitting that, with the team somewhat miraculously still in the playoff hunt, the two demons* that haunted them all season showed up to drag them into the dark abyss of playoff-less existence: 22 shots, 0 goals AND
for good measure, Shavar Thomas and Jimmy Nielsen completely misread a long ball to Shalrie Joseph, who easily put the only goal into the back of the net.*It's Halloween, I've broken out one zombie reference and one demon reference. If I were smarter, I'd figure out how to make a lame vampire joke somewhere.
Points left on the table: 3.A note: If you notice, I left the months of May and June out of this. This is because the team was just stank awful during that stretch. It was lame. Lamer than an adult that dresses up as a character from "Twilight" this year. (That wasn't forced or anything.) I tried to single out games that came during either a positive run of form or where absolutely must-win games.
Using the power of hindsight, of course, it'seasy
to say that those five games could've changed everything. If they win three of those games and draw two (10 points), the team is in the playoffs. Which isn't a completely unreasonable conceit.
Of course, beyond the reductive nature of claiming these gamesshould've
gone differently, each of those can also be used to explain exactly what the shortcomings of the 2010 Kansas City Wizards were.
But, because the team couldn't grab those 10 points, they have all off-season to find a way to fix it.