Having played, coached, and watched soccer all my life, I am particularly excited about the continual improvement of the U.S. professional soccer league- Major League Soccer (MLS). I am also thankful to live in a city with an MLS team, the Kansas City Wizards. The Wizards seem to be solidifying their commitment to stay in KC for the long haul with a new stadium complex due to begin construction in a few months, hopefully in time for the start of the 2010 season.
In the mean time, it seems like the Wizards are holding pattern a bit and not making good moves to improve their current team. Of course, having an opinion on everything, and knowing the sitemaster for the Wizards #1 fan site (Brian's Oz City ), I posted my criticism of the recent lack of sound moves on the part of management. It will likely draw the ire of some of the more ardent local fans, but it is based on some knowledge about the sport I love most.
Cause for Alarm (in fairness, the Wizards pulled the trigger on a great DP, Claudio Lopez...thus I was very happy to write a retraction of sorts here. And, I got my season tickets!
I was waiting for three events before buying my Wizards season tickets- The draft, the game schedule, and their first pre-season game. I have been disappointed on all three fronts and will not be purchasing season tickets this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll get to a bunch of games and do my best to support my team, but the actions of management over these last few months have been terribly disappointing. I write this only in hopes for an explanation (not just blown smoke) and hopefully to encourage reconsideration on a few fronts. I think I am saying what at least a few other fans think.
First, I am disappointed with the Wizards draft. Everyone knew we were going to lose Eddie Johnson. Johnson scored approximately one third of the Wizards goals last season and accounted for several others. A freed up Scott Sealy owes his goal scoring opportunities largely to the presence of Johnson. Like him or loathe him, there was no more impacting player on the Wizards last year than Eddie Johnson, like him or loathe him. Losing Johnson meant a major loss of goal production and would require an aggressive effort to acquire a legitimate scoring threat. What do the Wizards do? They essentially trade veteran Nick Garcia for Chance Myers and blow their first overall pick in the draft. I am not suggesting that Myers won’t turn out to be a solid player, but the immediate need was a scorer and I’m not so sure Meyer wouldn’t have still been available later in the same round. The Wizards did not draft one forward, not one. Instead they drafted six defenders, three of which could play midfield also. O.K., fine Coach Onalfo, I’ll readily admit you are smarter than me, maybe you’re thinking it’s safer and a better investment to draft and develop defenders- fine, but with all the freed up money, how about some moves for a playmaking center midfielder or a forward, perhaps a DP (heck, if LA can have 3, can’t we have one?)? Rookie Defensive midfielders will not make up for the lack of goal production caused by Johnson’s exit. What about the Eddie money now available? I’m seriously hoping the Wizards aren’t trying to mimic the Royals financial model, but it looks sort of that way. They get EJ transfer money, EJ’s freed up salary, Burciaga and Garcia’s salaries freed up, two Generation Adidas players (Myers and Espinoza), and they acquire NO ONE. Sorry, but the draft and attending lack of offensive player activity really took the wind out of my once excited for the 2008 season sails. The Wizards weren’t even .500 last year with Garcia and Johnson, they cannot be considered a better team than that going in to this season, it’s just not possible.
Second, I am disappointed with the game schedule. I am doing my best to talk up the Wizards and get friends and acquaintances to go to games. I think many committed fans are desirous of Wizards fame to be spread in our city, the potential is definitely there. Maybe it’s not the team’s fault on this, but there will be no home games in KC from April 12 to June 14! Two whole months in the season without a home game! This is absolutely stunning. What am I missing? Is it a stadium situation? This is hugely damaging. Last year April and May were two of the more exciting months of Wizards soccer. The nation team stuff hadn’t yet interrupted the season (a real pet peeve of mine), good weather, great time to get out for a game or two. This year- no home games for two months! Wow. It’s hard to think of a bigger marketing fumble than this.
Third, I am disappointed with the first pre-season game today. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t normally fret a loss this early, but I think it revealed a strategy that will likely mean this season will be very long one. The formation was a 3-5-2, one that is heavily dependent on the midfield. Midfielders in this line up must play both ways very effectively. Offensively such a line-up puts particular pressure on the center midfield to produce scoring chances for the two forwards. Usually such a line up possesses three marquee, game controlling, players laced through the middle. Conrad is the guy on defense, so we have one of those pieces for this line up. The two other middle pieces are center mid and center forward (although there are two forwards, one is the main go-to guy, like Eddie last year). What primarily worries me is the placement of Marinelli in the center mid spot. I think this reveals Onalfo’s strategy. He drafted a bunch of defenders who can play midfield, adding to several experienced players of the same ilk. He then places them around Marinelli. He must think Marinelli is the key to this offense, a 3-5-2 requires it. If Onalfo is depending on Marinelli to be the catalyst for offense, 2008 looks bleak to me. Please understand, I hope I am dead wrong about this, but Marinelli clearly is not the “new Maradona” everyone thought he was and his mysterious foot injury seems to have neutralized him significantly. He scored just one goal and had only five assists in 19 games last year. Even when he is healthy, he is not effective, and that was with Eddie up top. As for forwards, Sealy is not the go-to guy the Wizards need, either is Pore or Colombano. We know nothing about Trujillo. The Wizards lack the key transitional center mid needed to play an effective 3-5-2 and they are further missing a proven finisher up top. Two of the three key components of a 3-5-2 are missing for the Wizards, there’s no denying this. Today, with their defender-heavy line-up, they gave up four goals and failed to score at all. I am afraid this may be a sign of things to come if a couple moves aren’t made soon.
The Wizards must act during the next two months to aquire legitimate answers to these missing pieces, chiefly through obtaining players from Europe or South America. Otherwise, the only hope is that Marinelli stays healthy- something he hasn’t done for some time- and produces- also something he hasn’t done with the Wizards- and Trujillo turns out to be half as good as Eddie Johnson.
It seems like the Wizards have gone on the cheap and are possibly holding pattern until their new stadium is built? I don’t know, but I am disappointed.