[MLS] A rocky stretch run officially knocked Kansas City out of playoff contention but veteran defender Jimmy Conrad points to an earlier set of games that determined the Wizards’ fate.
“We can talk about the last six to eight weeks but I think the season got away from us before that,” says the veteran defender. “We won just one of 14 games before we beat Manchester United [in late July]. I don’t think any team can recover from that.”
Kansas City actually won one of 12 league games before beating Columbus and tying Colorado prior to beating Man United, and went 5-1-2 after the All-Star break to get back in the race before fizzling out. It ended up 11-13-6 (39 points) and seven points short of a playoff spot. It got that close by pounding No. 8 seed San Jose, 4-1, in the regular-season finale. A hat trick by Birahim Diop lit up the crowd attending the last game at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, which will be replaced sometime next season by a new Wizards’ stadium.
A new facility and the arrival of Designated Player Omar Bravo of Mexico are reasons for optimism, and despite the team’s final record Conrad believes Coach Peter Vermes instilled a fluid style of play. But scoring troubles and defensive breakdowns betrayed Kansas City in numerous games.
“There were a lot of soft goals we gave up,” says Conrad, “from everybody: from [goalkeeper] Jimmy Nielsen, or myself, or any of the defenders. We’d give a ball away or miss a tackle, little things, and we’d get punished for it. That’s one sign that this league is getting a lot better. In the past it didn’t seem to happen as much, but now it does, and a lot of times we seemed to get caught. I think each one of us would have to say we underachieved this year.”
Not until it was too late did the Wizards adapt to opponents’ rugged treatment of winger Ryan Smith, who tore through the league in the first few weeks but ended up with just seven assists. Kei Kamara led the team with 10 goals and the team's goals-allowed average was a respectable 1.17 but the standings points never measured up.
After that 5-1-2 spurt, a vital game against Houston was moved to midweek, forcing Kansas City to play three games in six days. It beat Chivas USA, 2-0, on a Sunday, and then staged a remarkable rally to upend Houston, 4-3, after trailing 2-0 and 3-1. “That took a lot out of us,” remembers Conrad. “Three days later we had to play a very good Dallas team, and they scored two goals on us in the first 15 minutes. If we would have got to halftime of that game, 0-0, maybe we get a different result.”
Kansas City lost, 3-1, and won only one of the next four before thumping San Jose in the season finale.
“But that turned out to be kind of the breaking point for us. We had a lot of momentum heading into that game, we thought we were good and good enough to beat that Dallas team, but after that we couldn’t get over the hump to get the results we needed.”
In the next few weeks, Coach Vermes and his staff will decide which players to protect in the expansion draft by which Portland and Vancouver will each select 10 players, and make some decisions regarding contracts. Conrad is out of contract; veteran striker Josh Wolff is one of several players whose options are up for renewal.
Whether or not he returns, Conrad sees bright spots for the team’s future; young players like Diop, veterans Davy Arnaud and Kamara, the stadium, Bravo, and an attractive style of play that with a bit more buttressing should generate results. By next year, the dark memories of points dropped will have faded.
“Whether it needs a coaching fix or a team fix, you just need to win a game,” says Conrad. “That’s usually the cure-all and we just couldn’t do it. Since I’ve been here, we’ve always hit that patch. This year it just came a little bit earlier. We’ve been always been able to come through it but like I said this year it was just too late.”