'10 Season Preview: Vermes changing culture in Kansas City
By Pat Martin, MLS Editor
Kansas City, KS (Sports Network) - The Kansas City Wizards endured a rough stretch last season that cost former coach Curt Onalfo - now leading D.C. United - his job. Inconsistencies over the past couple seasons are what led to Technical Director Peter Vermes deciding to step behind the bench.
Now, a season removed from an 8-13-9 record, Vermes is trying to change the culture in Kansas City.
"There's definitely a culture change within our team, which happens when a new coach takes over," Vermes told The Sports Network. "That was the first hurdle. We have a lot of new guys. The speed at which they adjust to each other and how we hone down on how we are playing and get used to each other is one of the bigger obstacles that we are going to have to overcome early on."
According to players, the intensity level has been raised this preseason, with more of a sense of urgency being instilled in training camp. The Wizards are hoping the result is a more consistent and formidable lineup in 2010.
"I think we are going to be good," Kansas City forward Davy Arnaud told The Sports Network. "We have underachieved the past couple years. It wasn't good enough and we know that."
The roster makeover starts in goal with MLS veteran Kevin Hartman, who manned the position the past three seasons, being traded to FC Dallas. Danish goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen will take over in net with Eric Kronberg being the backup.
"Neilsen comes in with a lot of experience," Vermes said. "He is slowly getting acclimated to the team."
Jonathan Leathers, Michael Harrington, Olukorede Aiyegbusi, and Roger Espinoza will compete for playing time at the fullback positions while veteran Jimmy Conrad will be joined by newcomer Pablo Escobar in the middle of the back line.
"If you go with Pablo Escobar in the back, again he is a guy who is young but has a lot of experience playing in the Colombian First Division," Vermes said. "He has a lot of really good qualities but again it's how he understands and sees MLS opponents. He's not gonna see that for real until we play an MLS game."
Matt Besler and Aaron Hohlbein will also see time at center back in what Vermes hopes will be a vastly improved unit.
"We have to be a very solid team defensively," Vermes said. "Having the experience of playing half of my career as a forward and the other half as a defender, when I was a forward in the first part of my career I probably never would have given defense as much credit as I do today if I hadn't become a central defender and played the other half of my career as a defender. I think being a good defensive team is extremely important.
The midfield has also been re-tooled with Arnaud, Jack Jewsbury and Santiago Hirsig being joined by newcomers Stephane Auvray, Graham Zusi, Birahim Diop and Craig Rocastle.
"I think [Diop] has been good in the midfield," Vermes said. "He has a huge presence physically. He's pretty good on the ball. We brought in a couple English guys as well who are clean and sharp in how they play and give us many options in many formations."
Out wide, Chance Myers, Ryan Smith, Igor Kostrov and Mauro Fuzetti will provide Vermes with a number of options in the counter-attacking game.
"Being able to win the ball back quickly and then attack in transition is very important," Vermes said.
Up top, veteran Josh Wolff will be joined by rookie Teal Bunbury, Zoltan Hercegfalvi and Michael Kraus.
"We have this mixture of guys," Vermes said. "Also, different guys can play in different formations, depending on the formation we play."
All in all, the Wizards appear to have a deeper lineup, which could lead to the consistency and the "change in culture" that the Wizards are seeking.
"I think this year we set our goals to get into the playoffs and to win an MLS Cup," Arnaud said. "There is no reason we can't. We have the players here and the coaching staff here. I think it's definitely doable."
03/22 12:35:40 ET