4. MLS COUNTDOWN: Kansas City relishes feel of stability

The Kansas City Wizards, which had a bye during the first weekend of 2007 MLS play, travel to D.C. United on Saturday for their season opener.

By Ridge Mahoney

The Wizards could be recruited as poster children for the ups and downs of MLS parity.

Three years ago, they were at Home Depot Center for the championship game, which they lost to D.C. United, 3-2. For the last two seasons, they've been at home during the playoffs, fidgeting with the remote or raking leaves or putting up storm windows.

Yet the mood amongst the coaches and players is upbeat, if not enthusiastic. OnGoal LLC, which bought the team from Hunt Sports Group during the summer to quash rumors of a move to another city, has begun developing a training facility and is shopping locations for a stadium. Longtime U.S. assistant coach Curt Onalfo was hired as head coach, and defender Jimmy Conrad has signed a new, long-term contract.

"It seemed like for the first time in a long time, all the questions were about the team, getting a new coach, stuff like that, not where, or if, we'd be playing next year ," says Conrad, who joined the Wizards in 1999. "We all try to concentrate on playing the game and try to block out the other stuff, and now we'll be able to do that."

From the team that finished fifth in the Eastern Conference (10-14-8), the Wizards have lost forward Josh Wolff, who played out his contract and joined German club 1860 Munich. Onalfo landed goalkeeper Kevin Hartman from the Galaxy in a trade and has been auditioning an Argentine midfielder, Carlos Marinelli, as his playmaker.

"We feel have a good core of players, and we'll have lots of competition," says Onalfo, who took his team during preseason to Buenos Aires and got his first up-close look at Marinelli, 25.

Scott Sealy led Kansas City last year with 10 goals, but nobody else - aside from left back Jose Burciaga, whose totals of eight goals and eight assists still defy belief - scored more than five. With four goals and four assists, Davy Arnaud's totals were his lowest since he earned a regular starting spot three years ago.

The scoring onus, surely, falls on Eddie Johnson, who tallied just two goals in 19 games last season after netting five times in 15 games during an injury-marred 2005 campaign.

"As a defender, I don't want to see Eddie Johnson running at me with the ball," says Conrad of the troubled striker who scored eight goals in his first eight games with the national team but since then has scored just once. "We're telling him to go at people whenever he has a chance. He just needs to get his confidence back and the goals will come."

Goalkeeping issues plagued the Wizards last season. Bo Oshonyi took the blame for a few soft goals and has moved on. "Kevin Hartman has really developed into a leader in our team as well and he's been good in goal," says Onalfo of the all-time league leader in wins (113) and co-leader in shutouts (62).

The club has placed three drafted players - Michael Harrington, Kurt Morsink and Aaron Holbein - on the 18-man roster. Onalfo gives Harrington a chance to earn a starting spot in midfield, perhaps on the left, depending on how Jack Jewsbury does in a new role at right back, where Nick Garcia roamed for years before moving inside alongside Conrad.

"We want good competition and we feel like we've added players that will keep the level of training at a standard that helps us to progress," says Onalfo. "We feel we're definitely a team that will be better than we were last year."

KANSAS CITY PRESEASON ROSTER
Goalkeepers
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

1 Kevin Hartman (Los Angeles Galaxy)
24 Eric Kronberg (Kansas City Wizards)
27 Chris Konopka (Providence College)
Defenders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

2 Michael Harrington (Univ. of North Carolina)
3 Nick Garcia (Kansas City Wizards)
6 Jose Burciaga Jr. (Kansas City Wizards)
12 Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards)
20 Tyson Wahl (Kansas City Wizards)
25 Matt Groenwald (Kansas City Wizards)
26 Ryan Raybould (Kansas Vituy Wizards)
Midfielders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
5 Kerry Zavagnin (Kansas City Wizards)
8 Ryan McMahen (Michigan State Univ.)
9 Sasha Victorine (Kansas City Wizards)
11Kurt Morsink (James Madison Univ.)
13 Will John (Kansas City Wizards)
14 Jack Jewsbury (Kansas City Wizards)
15 Aaron Hohlbein (Univ. of Wisconsin)
18 A.J. Godbolt (Univ. of Maryland)
21 Lance Watson (Kansas City Wizards)
22 Davy Arnaud (Kansas City Wizards)
23 Edson Elcock (Old Dominion Univ.)
30 Michael Kraus (Creighton Univ.)
Forwards
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
7 Eddie Johnson (Kansas City Wizards)
17 Yura Movsisyan (Kansas City Wizards)
19 Scott Sealy (Kansas City Wizards)
29 Ryan Pore (Kansas City Wizards)
33 Willy Guadarrama (Campbell Univ.)
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