Any team that can leave its leading goalscorer of the previous season on the bench and win, 3-0, while launching nearly twice as many shots as its opponent should probably be taken seriously.
Kansas City (2-1-0) did beat up on expansion Toronto FC (0-3-0) in its home opener Wednesday night, with the goals coming from Eddie Johnson, Kerry Zavagnin and substitute Yura Movsisyan. The Canadian team has yet to prove it can hang in MLS, having lost all three of its league games by combined scores of 9-0. It gets its best chance Saturday, when it plays its own home opener in a rematch against the Wizards
Still, those three goalscorers encapsulate some of the reasons Kansas City should be a major player in Major League Soccer this season after missing the playoffs the past two years.
Johnson, the ballyhooed starlet of 2004 who hasn't been much to rave about the past two seasons, scored the first goal and set up the second with a powerful dribble. He looks stronger, fitter, and more confident nearly two years after suffering a foot injury training with the U.S. team prior to a friendly against England.
Zavagnin anchors a midfield featuring rookie Michael Harrington, Argentine playmaker Carlos Marinelli and solid veteran Sasha Victorine. Zavagnin lashed home a loose ball after Johnson's penetrating run triggered a scramble that yielded three shots on goal, including Zavagnin's, and the first goal came from a superb Victorine cross after he'd been sent up the right flank by Davy Arnaud.
Movsisyan replaced Victorine and smashed home the third goal when a ball from Harrington left him one-v-one with Toronto defender Marco Reda. Movsisyan, a second-year player out of Pasadena (Calif.) City College, gives Kansas City another scorer in addition to Johnson, Arnaud and Scott Sealy, who led the team with 10 goals last year and has been sidelined by a sprained ankle.
Add defender Jimmy Conrad and keeper Kevin Hartman, and the Wizards look well-stocked at most, if not all, positions. Hartman had to flail away a deflected cross and handled the few shots Toronto directed on target comfortably; Conrad nailed a header from a Marinelli corner kick off the crossbar and played his usual rugged yet poised role as team captain.
Toronto FC is hurting and only with a late flurry was able to muster 10 shots (Kansas City took 18). Coach Mo Johnston has already swung more trades and on Saturday should be able to field English League veteran Daniel Dichio, a forward, for the first time. Yet Johnston's midfield needs work, the defense is leaky, and goalkeeper Greg Sutton doesn't look much better than he did when he had a brief fling in MLS at the turn of the millennium.
Maurice Edu, the No. 1 pick in the SuperDraft last January, saw his first MLS action after being sidelined with pelvic and groin injuries and only rarely showed the speed and power he displayed at the University of Maryland. Andy Welsh is still coming to grips with the demands of MLS and picked up a yellow card for his third cynical foul of the evening. Middle man Carl Robinson, too, needs to be sharper and smarter to find space, though Johnson's goal in the fifth minute injected momentum and confidence into Kansas City that Toronto struggled to tamp down.
Both teams are far from finished products. But early as it is in the season, one team is way ahead of the other.
April 25 in Kansas City
Kansas City 3 Toronto 0. Goals: Johnson (Victorine, Arnaud) 5, Zavagnin 55, Movsisyan (Harrington) 70.
Kansas City -- Hartman, Jewsbury, Conrad, Garcia, Burciaga, Marinelli (John, 73), Victorine (Movsisyan, 54), Zavagnin, Harrington (Raybould, 80), Arnaud, Johnson.
Toronto FC -- Sutton, Brennan, Wynne, Reda (Boyens, 73), Goldthwaite, Edu (Canizalez, 68), Welsh, Nagamura, Robinson, Eskandarian, Buddle.
Yellow cards: Kansas City -- Johnson 5, Jewsbury 49, Marinelli 66; Toronto FC -- Eskandarian 28, Nagamura 34, Welsh 68.
Referee: Andrew Chapin.
U.S. OPEN CUP. The Los Angeles Galaxy beat the Columbus Crew, 1-0, Tuesday on Nate Jaqua's goal to win a U.S. Open Cup MLS first-round qualifier. The Galaxy moves on to face the New York Red Bulls in the second round of qualifying. Real Salt Lake and Colorado will meet in the other qualifier.