Thursday, March 26, 2015

#TBT Kansas City's Worst Start to an MLS Season

With Sporting Kansas City off to their worst start to a season since the team started 0-3 in 1999, I figured I'd use this week's Throw Back Thursday to take a look at the start of the 1999 season and how Kansas City got to the point in that season of starting 0-3.

To get to the start KC had in 1999, we first need to look at the end of the 1998 season. To close out the 1998 season, the KC Wizards won just two of their final 10 games, going 2-8 with one shootout loss in that stretch (sound familiar? KC went 2-1-7 down the stretch in 2014). KC ended up losing their final three games, all by shutout, 1-0 to the Fire, 1-0 to Dallas, and 2-0 to San Jose. Kansas City finished bottom of the Western Conference, five points out of a playoff spot.

In the offseason, Kansas City made a big move, trading away MLS Best XI member, Mark Chung and goalkeeper, Mike Ammann to the NY/NJ Metrostars in exchange for US national team veterans, Alexi Lalas and Tony Meola. At the time both teams had to have felt good about the move, NY/NJ got themselves a very good midfielder and a goalkeeper who did quite well for KC in the 1997 before having a down 1998. KC meanwhile got two of the most recognizable US Soccer players of that time in Lalas and Meola, so hopes were renewed and high for the 1999, especially with the addition of 1990 World Cup veteran, Chris Henderson as well. Unfortunately, for both teams actually, things don't always turn out as planned as 1999 was a disaster for both.

The season took a big blow just days before the season started, Meola tore his ACL in practice (while playing in the field) and had to have an arthroscopic ACL reconstruction done that put him out for six months. On top of that, his back up, Chris Snitko hurt his back and would miss the first two games of the season. In their place, Kansas City brought in unknown Cesar Delgado for the season opener against the Dallas Burn in Dallas. Relatively little is known about Delgado, even by the club, for years his number had been represented as ?? on rosters because his actual number wasn't known/remembered. Needless to say the opener didn't go well as Delgado and the KC defense gave up four goals as the team fell in the opener 4-0. Once the team got back to KC, I remember hearing stories that the next day at practice, Delgado didn't practice with the team, instead they had him sit inside and watch the tape of the game in Dallas. Delgado was unceremoniously waived by the club and the team started their home opener against the Chicago Fire with veteran David Winner in goal. Winner had been in MLS since its inception, mainly as a backup, spending time with Columbus, New England, Chicago, and Miami before coming to KC in the 1999 season. Winner would go on to play in eight games for KC, but the opener against Chicago saw Winner give up three goals as the Fire won 3-0, putting KC at 0-2 and stretching their goalless streak to five straight games.

For the third game of the season, Kansas City had Snitko back and able to play, so he got the start ahead of Winner, but the losing streak continued as KC lost 1-0 at home to the New England Revolution. At this point the Wizards hadn't scored since the 80th minute of the team's 5-1 win over the San Jose Clash in the fourth to last game of the 1998 season, a span of 550 minutes as the team headed into their fourth game of the season against the same Clash team.

In the game against the Clash, Kansas City found themselves with a man advantage early on after San Jose's Caleb Porter (now Portland's coach) was sent off just after the half hour giving about 60 minutes to play with the advantage. KC couldn't take advantage of it though, and fell behind with a goal just before half time by Ronald Cerritos, who caused KC all sorts of problems throughout his MLS career. As the game rolled on it looked like KC was going to be shutout for the seventh straight game. In the 87th minute though, Chris Brown was able to get down the line, past his marker and roll a shot towards the far corner that was just a bit too far in front of Henderson, but the ball rolled into the net tying the game, and ending KC's shutout streak at 637 minutes. The game ended up going to a shootout where Cerritos and Eddie Lewis both scored while Nino Da Silva, Preki, Paul Wright, and Mo Johnston all missed (all had their efforts saved except Preki who put his effort wide). KC did catch a bit of a break in the shootout, Snitko got sent off during the shootout for a handball outside the box. Referee Kevin Stott though incorrectly allowed KC to bring in Winner to finish out the shootout.

After the game, things really came to a head as Meola and head coach Ron Newman traded jabs in the media with Meola saying that Newman didn't prepare the team to play San Jose during the week before the game, and Newman responding, calling out the goalkeeper for speaking publicly about it and stating his disgust with the comments.

On the surface, the quotes from Meola would seem to point towards a coach who has lost his locker room when players are that critical in the media about the coach. And sure enough, Newman "resigned" from his position later in the week. Newman was replaced by Ken Fogarty as the team's interim head coach. Fogarty was in charge of the club for 3 games, going 0-3 (1 a shootout loss), getting shut out two times before new head coach, Bob Gansler was hired. In his first game, Gansler led KC to its first win, 2-1 over the LA Galaxy. The season as a whole though didn't go well for KC, they finished the season 8-24, second worst in the league, just ahead of the previously mentioned Metrostars.

Hopefully KC can reverse the fortunes for their second worst start in team history here quickly. Below are the highlights of Newman's last game in charge, the 1-1(0-2) shootout loss to the San Jose Clash.

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