Kansas City, Mo. – With the pressure cooker of the Big Apple waiting this weekend, the Wizards know their season is teetering on the edge of no return.
Despite the glitz and glamour – not to mention talent – that promises to greet Kansas City at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, the visitors promise they won’t be blinded by the occasion or the star power on the other side of the field.
“We know it’s not going to be easy,” captain Davy Arnaud said, “but I think we’re all really looking forward to the game. We’re excited about the chance to get right back on the horse after the disappointing result last weekend [a 3-1 loss to Dallas] and kind of get that out of our minds.”
Kansas City will attempt to wipe that bad taste from their mouth with yet another tough test against a New York team that is currently gaining steam as it prepares for the playoffs.
After a historically bad year that saw the franchise reach an all-time low in 2009, the Red Bulls have rebounded remarkably under the guidance manager Hans Backe, in his first year with New York.
New York (13-8-5) sit comfortably in second place in the Eastern Conference and are tied for second in MLS in victories with Columbus and Real Salt Lake. That’s quite a turnaround from a year ago when the Red Bulls stumbled their way to 19 losses, easily finishing the season as the worst team in Major League Soccer.
And while the Wizards may not be full of household names like Thierry Henry’s and Rafa Marquez’s Red Bulls, Kansas City’s players certainly won’t be intimidated by their more worldly opponents.
“It’s always an honor when you play against world-class players; Henry, [Juan Pablo] Angel, Márquez,” said Kei Kamara, Kansas City’s leading scorer with 10 goals. “At the same time, when we are all on the field, everything just kind of switches off in your head. You don’t think about those things.”
Per his days at Arsenal and Barcelona, Henry will lurk up top and drift to the left as he has done so many times before, with an eye to exploiting any mistake the Wizards backline makes. Though the French superstar has only been in the league a matter of months, Wizards manager Peter Vermes said his quality remains undeniable.
"How's he look?” Vermes asked. “He's Henry. The thing that is very hard to measure with him is the experience in all of these types of situations and the craftiness.”
For their part, the Wizards will be focusing on continuing their run of the last two months, during which the team compiled a 6-2-3 record and rehabilitated its image from doormat to legitimate contender with victories at Columbus and Los Angeles.
Kansas City will also be able to draw on their 2-1 defeat of Manchester United when it comes to nerves, but, unlike that match, the showdown against the Red Bulls will be for keeps and one mistake could mean the end of the postseason dream for the Wizards.
“We’ve just got to keep pushing the other teams and make stuff happen for ourselves,” Kamara said.