Real Salt Lake at Kansas City Wizards - 3 Questions

Well it is that time again, and while the SB Nation doesn't officially have a KC Wizard blog yet, the Daily Wiz, is coming on board soon and their blogger Andy Edwards is also a writer for our SB Nation Kansas City site so he is our guest commentator on this edition of 3 questions.  Where we exchange questions and answers about each others team and the upcoming match.

So to get us started here is my first question for him:

1. After a good start (2 wins) KC went into a long tailspin, the team seems in recent weeks to have gotten back on track with a win over Columbus on the road, and then a big win at home last weekend against TFC. Toss in the win over ManU and it would seem that the Wizards have a bit of a streak going, what has changed in the last month to get the team back to being much more competitive?

A) The root of KC's struggles from games 3 through 14 was about as soccer simple as could possibly be. They failed to score goals, and they failed to keep their opponents from scoring goals.

Now, as simple and dumbed down as that sounds, it goes a bit deeper. They weren't just bad at scoring goals, or defending. They were really bad. If it weren't for DC United's even greater struggling scoring attack to this point, more would be made of the Wizards.

Wizards head coach Peter Vermes can be blamed as much as anyone for the lack of goals and defensive confusion early in the season. Since the first meeting between KC and RSL, Wizards fans have been calling for the removal of veteran Josh Wolff from the regular starting XI. Vermes was a bit more than reluctant to oblige, and the offense continued to struggle. Wolff's game now suffers from a loss of pace, and when playing wide on the right, that's a crippling blow to any attack. Vermes finally caved, sat Wolff in favor of Bunbury to start and the team has suddenly taken off. While they've managed only one goal in each of the last three league games, that's a huge improvement over the total of zero in the first three games after the World Cup break.

As for the defense, it was a rather simple problem. Vermes toyed and tinkered with the center half duo too much to start the season. The first two games of the season, Jimmy Conrad and Matt Besler were stellar together - shutouts against United and Colorado. The third game, Vermes started then-newly acquired Pablo Escobar along side Conrad, Jimmy got hurt, Besler was thrown into the fire with the new guy and the wheels fell off for two months. Re-acquiring Shavar Thomas from Philadelphia has helped stabilize the defense a bit, but Thomas - out of shape and aging - is not the long-term answer. Besler needs to play more, and I've been saying that since May. Come Saturday, send Saborio right at Thomas. You'll be pleased with the result.

More of my questions for him and his questions for me, after the jump:

2) A lot of attention has been given to Teal Bunbury and Ryan Smith as young players who are making an impact for KC, but the offensive numbers (14 goals for) show a team that is really struggling to create and convert. 6 of your goals have come from Kei Kamara who is anything but a consistent player, without being able to score goals on a regular basis, has this put an unfair amount of pressure on the defense and who are the players you expect to step up and create goals?

As I think about it, this Wizards team is very strange. Yes, Kamara is the high scoring on the team. But, like you said, he's very inconsistent. Finishing is not his strongest suit on the field. That much was evident in his "miss of the century" gaff against Los Angeles earlier this year. He does very well to find himself in good positions and he holds the ball up very well to allow others time to find space. He's got great size and strength to win long balls at any time. Over the last three league games and the Manchester United friendly, as much of an injection of life Bunbury has been, Kamara has outperformed every forward/winger on this team. He's been excellent.

Now, Bunbury in the starting XI flips the script on Kamara. And, this is what has made him better over the last couple weeks in my opinion. Bunbury is better suited to play at the center forward role than out wide. For some reason, despite his size and strength, Kamara performs better wide on the right. He wins the ball often out there and sets others up very well. Perhaps it's no longer having the pressure of being in the primary scoring position, but Kamara is very good wide right.

3) Much of the offseason drama in MLS focused on the CBA and KC's keeper at the time Kevin Hartman, now he has landed at FC Dallas and has posted a 0.69 GAA and they have lost just one match with him in net. His replacement in KC is Jimmy Nielsen who has a 1.18 GAA and a 5-8-4 record. I know much of the move was based on finances and Hartman took a much lower salary in Dallas, but how have the fans reacted to the departure of one of the best keepers in MLS history and the struggles of his replacement?

A) If you were say such as thing as "Jimmy Nielsen struggling" within earshot of a Wizards fan around Kansas City, you would probably be looked at real funny-like. In our reality, Jimmy Nielsen has been not only as good as Hartman had been in the past, but many would argue he's been better.

No one will argue that Hartman has performed very well for FC Dallas this year. That much is obvious in the GAA number you mentioned. However, Nielsen has been the starting 'keeper for KC from the moment he arrived into town and that was never in doubt. More than anything, that high GAA number charged to Nielsen is a byproduct of very poor protection in front of him. As I said in question one, the center of defense has been a weakness much of the year and left Nielsen very exposed far too often.

The things that KC fans love about Nielsen, other than his big save ability, is his leadership on the field. So often when a backline breaks down, you'll see the keeper come out shouting at guys, telling them how they screwed up. Not once this year have I seen that from Nielsen. He's always calm, even keel, yet still in control. I couldn't tell you how many times he has rescued this team with a big time save that he shouldn't have made.

When it comes to the Hartman vs. Nielsen debate, it's really apples to oranges - minus the same white hair, of course. Nielsen is a fan favorite and ever-grateful. He's been nominated for Save of the Week every week but twice this year, I believe, and has won the award four times. The fans love, and he loves the fans right back. Fans in Columbus launched a hot dog at him while in goal last month, and what did Jimmy do? He picked it up, took a bite and tossed it back. Personally, I'll take Nielsen over Hartman seven days a week.

OK now his questions and my answers:

1. With the US national team friendly against Brazil scheduled for this coming Tuesday and Robbie Findley being one of only three forwards named in the squad, one would expect him to not feature in Saturday's league game. Are you at all worried about your side's attacking fortitude on Saturday, given you'll essentially be without a heralded substitute striker in the severe heat in the Midwest of late?

A) Not at all, while I am not sure when Robbie will be heading out to join the USMNT, we know that RSL can score plenty of goals without him, he was gone almost all of May and June, during which the team was 6-0-2 in league play. RSL is one of the deepest teams in MLS with 12 different players having scored goals and 12 different players with assists, including Alvaro Saborio who has 8 goals and 4 assists. Sure I am hoping we can use Robbie for a half, he speed would be a huge advantage with the small pitch at CommunityAmerica, but I am confident we will be able to survive and continue to thrive.

2. With the successes of winning a league title comes the burden, if you will, of representing your league in the continental Champions League. As defending league champions, Salt Lake are automatically through to the group stage. Now that you've won an MLS Cup, how do you personally hope to see head coach Jason Kreis balance the two competitions going on at once? Is it a case of "we've won MLS, let's try and win something else"? Any potential adjustments to the gameday roster to accomodate upcoming CCL games?

A) If there is one thing people should know about Jason, it is that he hates to lose, at anything. He is very competitive and that nature has really translated itself to the team as a whole. I think Real Salt Lake is one of the deeper teams in MLS, as we showed in MLS Cup, when we lost two players before the start of the second half. So far this year we have adjusted to the loss of Ned Grabavoy for a month, Kyle Beckerman for two months, Robbie Findley's time with the USMNT, and even Javier Morales missing several matches. We have 16 players with over 200 minutes of first team MLS action, and that depth will give RSL the ability to deal with the hectic schedule of 14 matches in 54 days.

I think the number of players we had out on loan to get minutes will also help out, both of our backup keepers spent time in Charleston, we also had a couple players spend time with AC St. Louis in recent weeks to get some match conditions in. I do expect that as the CCL kicks in that you will see a lineup that will feature a number of different looks, we have 3 very good outside backs, 3 guys who can play d-mid, 5-6 who can play on the outside of the midfield, and 2-3 who can be that creative midfielder, and even at striker we have 3 top guys (Findley, Saborio, Espindola) and off the bench Pablo Campos who got the game winner against KC at CommunityAmerica for RSL last year.

3. Amidst the recent wave of Designated Player signings across MLS, two of the few teams that have not made a significant splash in the summer trasnfer window are Salt Lake and Kansas City. Why no signings, and is this worrisome on your part with fellow league contenders making such noise?

A) I think KC is in a boat where they have a lot of money invested into the building of their new stadium, and with limited income of a small facility it is hard to spend big dollars on a player. That may change for KC next year as they look to fill a new stadium. For RSL, I think it is two-fold, first is that we are the smallest market in the league and while we draw well, we are still as an organization turning the corner to being profitable and able to start paying off our stadium. Second is that I don't think Jason, Garth(GM) or Bill (president), are convinced that we need to bring in a big name player. We are 10-4-4 with our current roster, we did bring in Saborio in the offseason to fill the shoes of Yura Movsisyian who headed off to Europe. I do believe that we will end up the year with at least one DP, if not two, but I believe it will be new deals for Robbie Findley and/or Alvaro Saborio as RSL look to keep their core of players together.

I am not convinced that big name DP's make a huge difference in MLS, one only has to look at the loaded LA Galaxy team that RSL beat last year in the MLS Cup. Even with the new rules, having 15-18 solid players is going to be better than having 2-3 stars and only 5-6 solid players to play with them.

There you have this edition of 3 questions.  My match preview will be coming up this afternoon.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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