In a game characterized by missed opportunities, the Kansas City Wizards’ playoff hopes absorbed a critical blow at Red Bull Arena Saturday night.
The Wizards conceded an early goal for the third straight game and couldn’t find a way past goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul as the New York Red Bulls walked away with a 1-0 victory that left Kansas City seven points back of the San Jose Earthquakes for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Wizards have four games remaining in 2010, and one loss is likely all it would take to knock the club out of playoff contention for the second straight season.
“Nothing changes from here forward,” Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview after the loss. “We’ve got to win. That’s it. We’ve got to win. We’ve got to win. We’ve got to win. It’s been that way from awhile now.”
Making matters even worse is the fact that the Wizard’s primary competition for Major League Soccer’s final playoff spots padded their respective leads.
While Kansas City were dropping points against New York, the Seattle Sounders won 3-2 against Toronto FC and San Jose Earthquakes battled out a scoreless draw with the Columbus Crew.
And though the Wizards outplayed the Red Bulls at times on Saturday, an early Dane Richards’ goal in the sixth minute stacked the odds in the home team’s favor from then onward.
With Richards applying pressure, Jimmy Conrad appeared to be clipped while attempting to clear the ball, sending the ball squirting into space where the diminutive winger was free to curl the ball past Jimmy Nielsen.
“You never want to give up an early goal,” Vermes said. “We did, but I thought our reaction was very good. The way we played the rest of the game was an excellent performance.”
Despite the number of chances Kansas City created, they couldn’t put any in the back of the net. Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and Josh Wolff, playing in place of Ryan Smith who missed out because of a right hamstring injury, were all dangerous, but simply couldn’t put the final touch on the opportunities that arrived.
And, in the end, that was the only gap between the two teams. The Red Bulls are now on top of the Eastern Conference while the Wizards lament missed opportunities with time running out on their playoff dreams.
“We had 26 shots and 12 on goal,” Vermes said. “We have to stick something away.”
But as dangerous as the Wizards were, they were lucky not to be in an even bigger hole with Richards causing problems all night with his speed and Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel missing their chances while Nielsen also came up with a few key saves to keep the deficit at one.
“I thought most of the times we dealt with situations pretty well,” Vermes said. “A couple of times they got through, but that’s part of the game. Most situations we kept them at bay, but you have to take into consideration that we were chasing the game from a goal behind. You’re going to give up some stuff on the other side."
The Wizards are now set for a real chase for the rest of the season as time runs out on their drive to the playoffs.
“We’ve got to grind everything out,” Vermes said. “I think all the players know that.”