Steel will begin rising from the ground Monday in Kansas City, Kan., as the Kansas City Wizards’ first soccer-specific stadium starts moving from the drawing board onto the skyline.
And while the 18,000-seat stadium’s expected opening in June 2011 is undoubtedly being eagerly awaited by Wizards fans, the club’s present season appears to have gotten their attention, too.
Armed with a new coach and a medley of new international players, the Wizards are off to a 2-0 start to the season while scoring six goals and allowing none.
They stand atop of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference and join Los Angeles as the only MLS teams to claim all three points each time out.
“All this bodes well for a new season,” said David Ficklin, Wizards vice president of development. “When you look at Kansas City sporting history, it’s been a long time since the Chiefs won the Super Bowl or the Royals won the World Series. The most recent championship is ours (the 2000 MLS Cup), and that’s a long time ago for a city that loves its sports. This metropolitan area is just starved for a winner, and what we’ve done in our last two games has got people talking.”
The Wizards will try to move their record to 3-0 at noon today, when they visit Sounders FC at Qwest Field.
“It’s the first time for them on the road, so we hope that presents a good challenge for them,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “They’re a team that is very confident right now. They have brought in a lot of new players. It’s not the same team as last year, and that group is growing in their confidence in each other, and they have gotten two good results. So, we just need to let them know that they are playing Seattle Sounders, and that they are in Seattle, and that this is not a place where we give up points easily.”
The guy engineering those changes in Kansas City is former MLS player Peter Vermes, who took over as interim coach late last season.
After being awarded the permanent position in November, Vermes remade the roster by bringing in 10 international players: Korede Aiyegbusi, a second-round pick with Nigerian and English citizenship; Stephane Auvray, captain of the Guadeloupean national team; Teal Bunbury, the fourth-round pick from Canada and former Akron teammate of Sounder Steve Zakuani; Birahim Diop, a Senegalese midfielder; Pablo Escobar, a Colombian central defender; Igor Kostrov, a Moldovan midfielder; Jimmy Nielsen, with more than 400 goalkeeping appearances in the top Danish league; Craig Rocastle, an English midfielder; and Ryan Smith, a product of the Arsenal FC youth system. Recently signed striker Sunil Chhetri, the first MLS player from India, made his Wizards debut Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup qualifier and could play today.
“Sure is fun to see the intensity that the team displays,” Ficklin said. “Anyone who knows Peter Vermes knows that he would put his stamp on the team – that they would play like a bunch of Peter Vermeses. I think that we’re cautiously optimistic; excited about the new players, excited to see how this group of very different players from all over the world is beginning to mesh and how they’re fighting for each other already. You can see it, how they like each other. All this bodes well for a new season.”
And the goal, of course, is to earn a new championship banner to hang in their new stadium next season.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
Sounders FC gameday
KANSAS CITY WIZARDS (2-0-0; 6 pts.) at SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (1-1-1; 4 pts.)
Kickoff: Noon, Qwest Field.
TV: KONG 6/16. Radio: 97.3-FM (1210-AM, Spanish).
Head-to-head: The clubs split two regular-season meetings in 2009. The Wizards handed the Sounders their first loss in club history, 1-0, at Qwest. The Sounders won the return match, 3-2, at Kansas City. The return match this season is Oct. 9.
Team leaders: For K.C. – G 2 Kei Kamara; A 2 Ryan Smith; S 7 Smith; SOG 5 Smith, Davy Arnaud. For Seattle, G 1 four players tied; A 1 four players tied; S 13 Fredy Montero; SOG 4 Steve Zakuani.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “They are dangerous because they are very confident. They are a team that has gotten good results. (They) had a huge result in Week 1 when they won, 4-0. ... They are a team that wants to take that same success at home and move it onto the road. A confident team is always dangerous.”
Notes: Kansas City uses a 4-1-4-1 formation. The Wizards have outscored their first two opponents by a combined 6-0. They are trying to move to 3-0 for the first time since 2006. Kamara is the first Wizard to score in the club’s first two games since Chris Klein scored in the first three games of 2005. ... Kansas City’s injury list: M Zoltan Hercegfalvi is out with a torn ACL; M Santiago Hirsig is doubtful with a groin strain; Kamara (foot) and M Birahim Diop (knee) are probable. ... The Wizards lost a U.S. Open Cup qualifier Tuesday to Colorado. ... The Sounders suffered a 1-0 loss in their last home match, April 3 against New York. Seattle has never lost consecutive home games. ... D Tyrone Marshall is expected to get his 250th MLS start today. The same is true for Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad. ... Next week, the Sounders begin a two-game trip. They will return home May 1 versus Columbus. ... The department of transportation continues to warn of construction on Royal Brougham Way between the events center and Safeco Field. There also is a revised traffic pattern with the opening of the Royal Brougham Bridge into the second level of the Qwest garage from either First or Fourth avenues south.
Next: 5 p.m. Thursday, at FC Dallas, Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, Texas, ESPN2.
Don Ruiz, staff writer