Davy Arnaud was just three years into his professional career in 2004 when the Kansas City Wizards last went to the MLS Cup final.
Arnaud and the Wizards will have to wait at least one more year for another opportunity to play for a championship. The club’s season officially ends this Saturday against San Jose after their run to the MLS Cup Playoffs came up short in the season’s final weeks.
“It’s always a bad way to end the season,” Arnaud said. “You don’t want to end it after the regular season. Back in 2004, we were playing in the final. We lost that game, but you always think, ‘We’ll be back there again.’ You just never know when those opportunities are going to come around again. As the years go by, you realize that each year is precious and important.”
As crucial as this year was, the Wizards know they laid a solid foundation for 2011 even if the disappointment that comes with not making the playoffs is overshadowing that promise for now.
Unlike most of the teams that fell short this year, Kansas City have only had a week for reality to set in after losing to the New England Revolution in a must-win match last weekend. The Wizards remain focused on Saturday’s match against the Earthquakes, which will end the team’s three-year stay at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. That hasn’t kept the players and coaches from thinking about what could have been.
Manager Peter Vermes never missed the playoffs during his seven seasons as a player in MLS. The coach said it was hard to swallow the fact that the season’s end was only days away, especially since the team had worked so hard to resurrect its playoff hopes from July forward.
“It’s extremely disappointing going into the last game and knowing you aren’t going to be in the playoffs,” Vermes said. “I can tell you that. It’s not a fun feeling. That’s for darn sure.”
What Kansas City don’t want is for that feeling to extend into the offseason by virtue of an uninspired performance against the Earthquakes. At the very least, the Wizards want to turn a performance that will make both themselves and their fans proud and lay a solid foundation for what promises to be another busy offseason.
“We want to go out on a high note and have a good feeling after the last game,” Arnaud said. “In training you can kind of tell that guys are disappointed, but that hasn’t stopped the competiveness.”
Now, the challenge is forging the competitiveness, drive and results that came throughout the second half of the season into a year-long undertaking so next season, when the team moves into a new stadium and welcomes Omar Bravo into the fold, ends differently.
“There is no doubt that this is a results-oriented business, and we have to get results,” Vermes said. “I’m proud of the way we responded in the second half of the season, but it also paints a picture that every game is important. That’s probably a psychological aspect that has to become better for our team.”
For Kansas City – playoff-bound or not – the first opportunity to improve on that mind set comes this weekend.
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