This is the first annual Oz City “State of the Wizards Address.” (Although nothing can technically be called “annual” until the second occasion.) I would love to see an official version of this by the guy above in the Uncle Sam suit, Robb Heineman. If you don’t know Robb is the President of the Wizards. In many ways this expresses what I’m excited about for the Wizards in 2008 and beyond as well as what I am worried about. I’ve broken it into two major sections: on the field and off the field. Enjoy.
On the Field
Coach Curt Onalfo: I like the guy, he is young, and has take a team that has missed the playoffs for two years and taken them to the semifinals in one year. Not only that, he has put together an offense that is fun to watch as a fan. Always going forward, taking risks and apart from our failure to score on a corner kick this past year, has had great success. Getting 3rd Person Eddie scoring was more than I expected, but makes me believe he knows how to get the most out of his players which is needed to win in MLS.
The Defense: Who are we kidding, the Rio Grande River did a better job at defense than our back line did in 2007. However by the end of the 2007 season, and for much of the playoffs, our defense was an iron curtain. That being said, if we look at the season as a total we gave up .09 more goals per game than we did in 2006, a year we missed the playoffs. The truth is our strong offense made our poor defense less noticeable. All in all we broke even scoring 45 goals and giving up 45 goals. The question regarding the defense though is where does the blame lie? Garcia? Jewsbury? Burciaga? Conrad? These four logged more minutes at defense than anyone else. Burciaga and Garcia have become the scape goats. If I’m honest though I haven’t watched them a full season and I look forward to see if they stick around now that players will be moving across the league. That being said, our defense doesn’t need a makeover, but simply to bring in some reinforcements.
The Offense: Our offense in 2007 came and went with Eddie Johnson. He personally scored 33% of our goals while playing in only 83% of our games. And while the guy is so focused on himself that he often refers to himself in the 3rd person he managed to tally 5 assists, good enough for 3rd on the team. To put this in perspective Eddie led the team with 15 goals while Sealy was our second highest scorer with 7 goals. So what is the state of our offense? Depends on so much at this point: Will Eddie jet to Europe? Will the Eddie of 2006 show up again? Much of that will be answered in the next few months leading up to the season. I will say that my excitement about Onalfo makes me believe that even if we lose Eddie he has a plan to score more goals in 2008. The other concern here is Arnaud. He had surgery on his knee about a month ago and will miss pre-season ’08 and possibly much of the season. Again, the great unknowns make me a bit concerned regarding 2008.
Youth: I am really excited about our young players- specifically Ryan Pore, Michael Harrington and Aaron Hohlbein. In 2007 Harrington scored 4 goals and had 3 assists, all while a rookie. This guy can play and if we get anything close to him in the 2008 draft I will be very satisfied. Ryan Pore didn’t see much first team play, but has been progressing nicely with the reserves and while Hohlbein has only played in 5 games he has done enough to gain a trip to China with the U-23s this off season giving me hope that he will come ready to play in 2008.
Player Movement: After the season ended, Onalfo spent some time down in Argentina looking at players and meeting with player agents. My hope is that Juan Toja has a little brother with a cooler mullet who is currently packing his bags to head to Kansas City. I’d be happy though with more of the South American style play coming to our tiny stadium in the heartland.
Off the Field
Stadium 2008: For the next two seasons the Wizards will be playing in Community America Park near the Legends. If not for news of new stadium being built this would be the most pathetic thing ever. That being said, knowing it is temporary these two years may go down in history as the most fun in fan memory. With only 10,000 seats we will surely see the first home sellout in team history. And while that is a small number, the environment of a sold out 10,000 seat stadium will blow away the environment of 30,000 in the huge confines of Arrowhead Stadium. Having been out to the temporary stadium, it is not ideal: all seats don’t face the playing field like we’ve come to expect and really all seats are not seats, but 45 degree hills. This is great for the team though, as it won’t cost an arm and a leg to put a game on and there are things to do at the Legends before and after the game.
Stadium 2010: The state of the team is great if for no other reason we will have a stadium in two years, which means the team will be here in five years and ten years and so on. Knowing your team is not leaving town gives the fans the ability to really get excited and buy merchandise and commit to the team as whole. This is the highlight of the off season news, things are good in Kansas City.
Merchandise: This year we will see a new jersey with yellow accents/trim (rumored) which in my opinion is a great addition. Also, OnGoal has made more fun merchandise available than most teams in the League. All we need now is a logo that we really want to wear around. I love the team and want to support them in every way, but we have the worst logo in the league (besides New England). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: OnGoal, re-brand before the stadium, use that new brand to promote the new stadium and start building the brand today; you are just wasting time so you can have one all-out revealing. Stretch the big announcements out and get more PR for it (plus, with most people believing a re-branding is coming, it will be hard to sell merchandise. If you aren’t re-branding, make that known too.). However keep blue! I’m thinking Chelsea-like (and I hate the team Chelsea).
Summary: Since the takeover by OnGoal the state of team has done nothing but improve month after month. I’m excited about many things coming this year: The revealing of the new jerseys in mid-January, new players from both the draft and transfers this month, the temporary small stadium, the unveiling of the stadium mock-up in late January, the pre-season trip (I’d love to cover it if they’d let me), an official team blog soon, attending practices at Swope Park, winning MLS Cup in November.
Having followed MLS for many years I feel I can say the state of the Wizards is greater than it has ever been.