New Look Kansas City Wizards Hope Changes Mean Return to Playoffs

Phil ShoreCorrespondent IApril 2, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 12: Josh Wolff #16 of the Kansas City Wizards plays the ball against the New York Red Bulls during their game at Giants Stadium on September 12, 2009 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Wizards defeated the Red Bulls 1-0.  (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)
Andy Marlin/Getty Images

In 2009, the Kansas City Wizards went from a playoff team to a bottom-three team in MLS. The team was plagued by a poor attack, scoring the second-least number of goals (33). The team spent the 2010 offseason making major changes to the roster in hopes of rectifying their offensive woes and getting back into the playoffs.

Head Coach Curt Onalfo was axed and Peter Vermes was brought in to replace him.

While Vermes and the front office indulged in quite a bit of player movement, there are three returning MLS veterans the team will lean on heavily: forward Josh Wolff, midfielder-forward Davy Arnaud, and defender Jimmy Conrad.

Wolff was one of the top goal scorers last season (11) and is one of the active leaders in career goals (73). His 11 goals last year were a career high in his 11-year MLS career. The Wizards will need him to continue to stay hot and put the ball in the back of the net to be successful.

He’s also made 52 appearances for the United States National Team and was a member of two World Cup squads. His experience will be invaluable to the team as everyone tries to gel.

Arnaud has been with the team his entire professional career, amassing 191 regular season appearances. He didn’t break into the starting lineup until his second season, but he made an immediate impact scoring in the 11th minute of the match against the then-named Metrostars, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Conrad, another Wizards mainstay, has been with Kansas City since 2003 and played in 178 games for the team, including the 2005 season when he was named MLS Defender of the Year. He was a teammate of Wolff’s in the 2006 World Cup. His experience will also help stabilize not only the team, but as the center back, he will be counted on to keep the defense organized.

Those three will be instrumental in keeping the team together as a number of players from last year are no longer with the team.

Gone are second leading scorer and points leader Claudio Lopez and forward Herculez Gomez (in 34 appearances with Kansas City, Gomez scored only one goal; in 12 appearances with Mexican side Puebla, Gomez has tallied an impressive seven goals).

Surprisingly, goalkeeper and MLS all-time saves, shutouts, and victories leader Kevin Hartman was also traded.

The Wiz replaced Hartman with Danish keeper Jimmy Nielsen, who made 342 appearances with Danish Superliga team Aab Fodbold.

In front of him, Kansas City added Colombian defender Pablo Escobar. The team hopes he continues the trend of Colombians being successful in the league, following in the footsteps of players like Juan Pablo Angel and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.

On offense, the Wizards will hope a full season from Kei Kamara will help them.

Kamara came over in a late season trade with Houston in 2009 and only appeared in six games for Kansas City. He has great speed and could be quite dangerous.

They also added English midfielder-forward Ryan Smith. Once a member of storied English Premier League club Arsenal, the Wizards hope he has already made an impact in Kansas City, scoring in the team’s season-opening win over DC United.

Another player to watch out for is rookie Teal Bunbury. The clinical finisher from the University of Akron was Soccer America’s player of the year and a first team All-American. His father, Alex, is a former Wizards player, and he should get a fair share of chances to play this season.

Many thought it would take a considerable amount of time for so many new faces to gel, but the Wizards came out of the gates of the 2010 season with a bang, thumping D.C. United (and Onalfo) 4-0.

It’s still early and D.C. has a number of new players trying to fit together as well, but it was an impressive performance and it will be interesting to see how the Wizards play together for the rest of the season.