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Wizards face rising Chivas USA
by Ridge Mahoney, October 26th, 2007 7AM

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The Wizards are back in the playoffs three years after finishing runner-up at MLS Cup; among the veterans of that solid team are defenders Jimmy Conrad and Jose Buricaga Jr., midfielders Sasha Victorine and Kerry Zavagnin, and attackers Scott Sealy and Davy Arnaud. They needed a win on the final day of the season to make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, and as the fifth-placed team in the Eastern Conference are matched against the Western Conference champion on the other side of the bracket. First-year head coach Preki has upgraded Chivas USA from good to borderline excellent by incorporating a more direct, yet skillful, style of play.

A remarkable home record (10-1-4) and resilient defense (28 goals allowed, second-best in MLS) indicates sufficient quality to carry Chivas USA to the final.

KANSAS CITY (11-12-7) vs. CHIVAS USA (15-7-8)
Saturday,
8:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick
Season series: Even (1-1). Goals: 4-4.

GOOD. Both teams have dangerous attackers. Eddie Johnson led the Wizards with 16 goals, yet Scott Sealy scored seven, and Davy Arnaud chalked up nine assists. Maykel Galindo led Chivas USA with 12 goals in his first MLS season and Sacha Kljestan finished second in the league with 13 assists.

The Chivas USA defense benefited greatly from the trades that landed Shavar Thomas and Jason Hernandez. They have brought depth to supplement the talent and experience of Claudio Suarez, the versatility of Lawson Vaughn, and some amazing work by keeper Brad Guzan (0.93 goals-allowed average, 13 shutouts).

BAD. Losing Ante Razov (sprained knee) strips Chivas USA of more than just 11 goals. His lateral mobility and guile, not to mention potent left foot, served as a perfect foil for Galindo's pell-mell dribbles and searing runs. Replacements John Cunliffe and Laurent Merlin are willing but limited.

UGLY. Kansas City conceded 45 goals, the most among eight playoff teams.

UNKNOWN. Both Preki (Chivas USA) and Curt Onalfo (Kansas City) are rookie head coaches, so that's a push, but Preki has far more experience playing in big games and worked with his players for a year as an assistant before taking the top job. Onalfo scouted CONCACAF foes for Bruce Arena during their time with the national team, so he's no stranger to tactics and preparation.

KEY MAN. Keeper Kevin Hartman must command the Wizards penalty area and can't get hung up in traffic. The absence of Razov means Kljestan needs to take the occasional shot as well as look for the killer pass.

BOTTOM LINE. Kansas City can score on everybody but can't seem to stop anybody, and those teams rarely do well in two-game series.

 



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