Just when things started becoming predictable, Kansas City reminded the rest of the league that their season isn’t lost yet.
Mired in a three-game losing streak and facing long odds in Columbus on Wednesday night, the Wizards played one of their best games of the season, defeating the Eastern Conference-leading Crew 1-0 on Teal Bunbury’s first regular season goal.
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All in all, it was an enormous result for a team that has struggled away from home this season.
“Whether it was a first-place team or not, it was good to get the points on the road,” manager Peter Vermes said in a phone interview after the game.
To put it lightly, the odds were stacked against Kansas City from the start.
The Wizards' last road victory came almost exactly 10 months ago on September 12, 2009, against the Red Bulls. They were also winless in their last five at Crew Stadium, and hadn’t led away from CommunityAmerica Ballpark all season while scoring just two goals in the process.
"When things aren't going your way," Bunbury said, "that's when your true colors come out."
Despite coming off a frustrating defeat to Chivas USA at home on Saturday, Kansas City bounced back from a shaky opening 10 minutes to score the all-important opening goal in the 14th minute. Bunbury finished off a blistering counterattack by slotting the ball between Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer’s legs.
With around 10 friends watching in the stands after making the trip down the road from Akron, where the rookie forward attended college, Bunbury’s goal couldn’t have come at a better time for a scuffling Wizards side. KC improved to 4-8-3 on 15 points with the result, pulling themselves a little further out of the Eastern Conference basement in the process.
And while Bunbury was happy to pass the credit for the victory on to his teammates, he wasn’t so forthcoming when asked whether or not he intended to meg Hesmer.
“I’m going to say yes,” Bunbury said laughing.
For his part, Vermes was quick to praise the young forward’s ability to get behind the Crew back line and his ability to finish once he got his chance.
“The great thing about him tonight was his speed and his separation when he took off,” Vermes said. “He was just flying by players with his speed. He was a lot for them to handle.”
As were Bunbury’s two strike partners, Kei Kamara and Ryan Smith, who collected his team-leading sixth assist on the goal. But it was goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen who may have had played the biggest role in the victory.
Nielsen made stop after stop from the opening whistle to the final 20 minutes, when Columbus threw bodies forward in an attempt to salvage a result. The "White Puma" stymied Drew Moffat, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Emmanuel Ekpo, among others, on his way to another sterling performance.
“He is huge in the back,” Bunbury said. “He’s making big save after big save every game in the back it seems like. He’s up for Save of the Week almost every week, so you have to give him credit back there.”
So while the Wizards will savor this feeling after two-and-a-half disappointing months, they know there is still plenty of work to be done. Kansas City travel to Colorado this Saturday for their third game in eight days before the All Star break.
But even the impending travel and another tough fixture couldn’t take away from the team’s against-all-odds performance.
“We are going to rest,” midfielder Stephane Auvray said, “and we are going to enjoy this one.”