KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Peter Vermes doesn’t normally talk much about the Wizards' upcoming opponents, let alone praise them.
Vermes usually prefers to discuss his own team. But on Thursday, Kansas City’s manager took time out to commend defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake, the Wizards' opponents on Saturday at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
“As a team, we feel that right now they are playing the best soccer in the league,” Vermes said.
That’s certainly not an exaggeration, either. The numbers and results back him up.
After starting the season slowly in defense of their 2009 MLS Cup championship campaign, RSL have gradually emerged as the most dangerous team in the league. They lead MLS in goals with 32 and have lost just once in their 10 games, outscoring opponents 17-5 during that period.
With that in mind, Vermes knows the Wizards' rapidly improving back line will have to play one of its most complete games of the season to shackle RSL's attack, which tore Kansas City apart 4-1 in Utah earlier this season.
“It’s going to be a major challenge for us,” Vermes said, “probably our biggest test of the season so far. This is going to be one where we are not just going to have to be concentrated, but we’re going to have to make sure that we stick to our game plan from the very first minute of the game all the way through the 90-plus minutes of injury time.”
That focus is especially important because Real Salt Lake’s production isn’t predictable. Seven players have at least two goals this season, and only forward Alvaro Saborio has more than four.
Three different RSL players—Saborio, Robbie Findley and Nelson Gonzalez—scored last week in a 3-0 victory against D.C. United, something that hasn’t escaped the attention of Vermes and his staff.
“They are a team that can break you down in many different ways,” he said, “and we’ve got to be prepared for all of them.”
The only real question for Kansas City is whether RSL will employ the flowing style of play they have relied on all season or revert to the bunker-and-punt approach they employed last season at CAB.
Vermes, who does not know if he can count on winger Ryan Smith (hamstring), said he was guessing Jason Kreis’ side would come to play. But either way, the Wizards will focus on doing what they’ve done best for the past two months: disrupting their opponents with pressure and an uncompromising style of play.
“They are feeling their game right now,” Vermes said. “They have a connection and some continuity in the way they’re playing, which they have been growing off since the start of the season. We are going to have to get them out of that rhythm.”