Onalfo hopes Wizards can carry momentum into '09 season

Nick Sloan

Entering his third year with the Kansas City Wizards, head coach Curt Onalfo is excited about his club.

And why not?

The team closed last year with a bang, ending the season with a 5-1-1 run to make the playoffs. The team was eliminated in the 2008 Major League Soccer playoffs by the Columbus Crew, the eventual MLS champion.

"I feel good about things," Onalfo said. "We do have injuries to key guys, and they be off for three months. But we feel like we have a strong group."

In the offseason, the team made four notable player acquisitions.

The team traded for Adam Cristman, who played with New England last season. In the MLS SuperDraft, the team selected defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi. Besler, a Notre Dame grad originally from Overland Park, Kan., was selected in the first round.

"We had a lot of good acquisitions during the offseason, and they will have an impact on this season," said Peter Vermes, technical director of the club. "We and the players are excited to get started."

One area where the Wizards struggled – especially early in the season – was in scoring; the team ranked near the bottom of the league in 2008.

Still, Onalfo does not necessarily care about the rankings. But scoring a few more goals wouldn't hurt.

"All I really care about is scoring more goals than the other team," he said. "It's been a long process to make sure we have new attackers."

Playing their second season in Wyandotte County, the Wizards found early success at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. The Wizards finished 9-2-4 when they played in Kansas City, Kan., one of the best home records in MLS play.

"Every single home game was an exciting game for us," Onalfo said. "We didn't win enough games on the road, and we have to fix that."

The team won just two road games last year. This year’s schedule for the Wizards is more favorable than last year’s. The Wizards were on the road for more than two months during the season, which resulted in a rocky start.

During the season, the Wizards acquired Claudio Lopez, who was the team’s first Designated Player. The club also signed Josh Wolff during the season.

Along with the team’s four acquisitions, key veterans return to the club, including award winners from last year.

Jimmy Conrad was last year’s team most valuable player. Davy Arnaud earned the Golden Boot; Jack Jewsbury was named Kansas City’s defender of the year; Roger Espinoza was the club’s top rookie; Kevin Hartman was named last season’s humanitarian of the year; and Ivan Trujillo won the reserve team’s player of the year.

All but Trujillo are on the team’s official roster entering 2009.

Kansas City Kansan