Kansas City Wizards
Unsurprisingly based in Kansas City, the Kansas City Wizards ply their trade in the Eastern Conference. Taking their name from the Wizard of Oz (an allusion to the hometown of Dorothy), they currently play at the CommunityAmerica Ballpark, while waiting for the construction of a brand new soccer specific stadium. They have appeared twice in the MLS Cup, taking the trophy in 2000.
The Kansas City Wizards were born in 1995 as one of the ten founding members of Major League Soccer, complete with league assigned logos and uniforms. Under head coach Ron Newman, their first game saw them defeat the Colorado Rapids at the Arrowhead Stadium on April 13th 1996.
This was the start of a stunning first season, as the Wizards won their way into the playoffs, in large part due to the heroics of midfielder Preki, who led the way in a win over the Dallas Burn to secure a place in the Western Conference final. It was to end here, however, as the Wizards succumbed to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The following year, the Wizards were keen to build on their debut showing and succeeded in toppingthe Western Conference. However, despite Preki receiving the MVP award that year, and Mark Chung and Richard Gough joining him on the MLS Best XI squad, the Wizards were unable to keep up the pace, falling to the Colorado Rapids in the first round of the playoffs.
Bottom of the League
This disappointment of losing to the Colorado Rapids, the last seeded team, sent the Wizards downhill in 1998. From the summit of the Western Conference, the Wizards startlingly plummeted to the bottom. Things failed to improve the following year and another last place finish saw the replacement of Newman with new coach Bob Gansler.
A Return to Form
Changes in the club’s roster before the 2000 season brought new hope to the failing team. With an improved roster which included the likes of Nick Garcia and Kerry Zavagnin, and a return to form for players like goalkeeper Tony Meola (who had been injured the previous season), the Wizards went confidently into the season.
Courtesy of their stronger and more dynamic team, the Wizards were unstoppable. Aided by two of the league’s best midfielders in Chris Henderson and Chris Klein, they finished the season with the best record in the league. Meola proved his outstanding ability with a 681 minute shutout streak, the longest in the history of MLS.
The playoffs gave the Wizards the chance to settle the score with the Rapids, and this time they would not let victory slip away from them, winning the game and progressing to the Conference final.
Facing the LA Galaxy in a game that will go down in history with Wizards fans, all seemed lost until a penalty kick by Milkos Molnar reversed the team’s fortunes and, building on that stroke of good luck, they kept the Galaxy on the ropes to score a golden goal and take the Wizards into their first MLS Cup. After such a famous victory, the Chicago Fire were no match for the marauding Wizards, who took the final 1-0 courtesy of a goal from Molnar.
Deservedly the team’s outstanding performance was acknowledged with a number of personnel accolades, including MLS Cup MVP for Meola and MLS Coach of the year for Gansler.
Defending their Title
The departure of Preki in 2001 to the Miami Fusion proved a big blow to the club and, suffering from his loss, they struggled into the playoffs. To add insult to injury they fell in the first round to the Miami Fusion, who were making the most of Preki’s strengths themselves.
In response, the Wizards quickly secured Preki’s return to the club. Sadly, the arrival of the prodigal son made little difference to the Wizards’ season, as the 2002 campaign proved uneventful. Although the Wizards snuck into the play-offs, it was little surprise when they were taken out in the first round by the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The year after, it looked like things were beginning to improve, as the Wizards climbed their way back up the league table, and made it to the final round of the playoffs. Sadly, an unfortunate loss in extra-time brought another disappointing season to an end.
A Chance of Success
Befitting the short history of the Wizards, seasons of frustration were marked by a surge in form, as the reinvigorated team burst back onto the scene in 2004. Helped by the introduction and flourishing of goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi, who steped into the shoes of injury affected Meola, the Wizards ended the season with style, taking six consecutive victories and, with that, the divisional title.
Making it to the playoffs, the team lost their first game to defending champions, the San Jose Earthquakes, and needed to pull an outstanding performance out of the bag to keep alive their hopes of progressing. Coming up against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Wizards again proved themselves more than able to rise to the occasion and, in the process, secured themselves another chance at the MLS Cup.
However, unlike 2000, the Wizards simply couldn’t rouse themselves for the final against the formidable DC United. The match was a torturous one from the outset, as Wizards player Alex Zotinca made DC United’s job that much easier by notching an own goal. Although the Wizards did their level-headed best to respond, they were simply outmatched by DC United.
Nevertheless, coming off the back of their strong showing in the MLS Cup, the Wizards did manage some success in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Having defeated the San Jose Earthquakes in the semi-final, the trophy was won courtesy of an extra-time goal from Igor Simutenkov.
Lamar Hunt, owner of the Wizards, announced his plans to sell the franchise after the 2004 season, amids concerns over the Wizards’ future in Kansas. Further changes came with the club’s move to the Eastern Division, a switch which proved hard to deal with, as they failed to win games early in the season.
The bad run of luck continued as, for the first time in five years, the Wizards failed to make the playoffs. Preki, a crucial team player throughout the Wizards history, also announced his retirement to cap a miserable season.
The following year, playoff hopes were yet again dashed, losing to the New York Red Bulls in their last game of the season. Gansler reigned as head coach, and Curt Onalfo was appointed in his place before the 2007 season.
However, one positive was provided, when Hunt sold the franchise to OnGoal, a local group who would secure the Wizards future in Kansas. With new ownership came the promise of new developments for the club, with a training centre in Swope Park opened in 2007 and plans in place for a brand new world class stadium for the Wizards.
- MLS Cup – Winners (2000), Finalists (2004)
- US Open Cup – Winners (2004)