KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It took the Wizards almost five months to find their road form, but knocking off the league’s top two teams away from home has sent a message to the rest of Major League Soccer:
Kansas City (7-9-5) are no longer going to roll over away from CommunityAmercia Ballpark.
“I don’t know if we had a bucket list for the season, but those were two pretty big milestones to cross off our list,” defender Jimmy Conrad said of road victories at Columbus and Los Angeles. “It just gives us confidence. I think the biggest thing we have going for us is just belief.”
That belief has vaulted the Wizards from Eastern Conference doormat to legitimate playoff contenders in a matter of two months. Since surprising the Crew 1-0 on July 14, the Wizards are 2-1-1 in their travels (4-1-2 overall) after starting the season a disastrous 0-5-1 away from CAB.
And although Kansas City won’t match up with a first-place team on Saturday night in Philadelphia, manager Peter Vermes and his squad know they can’t afford to look past the Union.
“They don’t get the credit they deserve,” Vermes said. “And I don’t say that to try to cover us. [Union Manager Peter Nowak] has stuck to his guns and really hasn’t changed his team when people were talking about his goalkeeper and different things that were questioned.”
That faith paid off for Philadelphia last weekend in a rousing 2-1 comeback victory over New England. The Wizards defeated the 10-man Union 2-0 in June, but Nowak’s side has continually made progress since then.
The Union are 3-4-4 since that loss, with Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga leading the way offensively and the roster meshing more with every game it plays.
“They move together pretty well for an expansion team,” Conrad said. “They’ve only been together for six or seven months, but they seem to have a good spirit abut their team.”
Based on that spirit and the pride that comes from performing in front of their home fans, Vermes said he believes this game will be even tougher to take a result from than last weekend’s match against the MLS-leading Galaxy.
“They fight for every ball,” he said. “They press the game. They play with an incredible amount of energy. Plain and simple, they get after it. To not take them serious would be a big mistake on our part.”
Luckily, it’s not one Kansas City is likely to make with its previous road struggles still relatively fresh. But, like the Union, the Wizards have cultivated a spirit of their own during their resurgence during the past two months.
“There is a confidence level in the way that we are playing,” Vermes said. “The key was trying to stay with our style of play, tweak it and screw down the areas that needed to be tightened up.”