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‘Wiz’ put out the Fire

KC 3, Chc. 1

The MLS still has a few tricks stuffed in its soccer socks, right down to their reasonably priced cleats.

The Kansas City Wizards and the Chicago Fire suited up for an exhibition match at the USF Soccer Field in front of a crowd of over 1,000 people, though many of the fans — mostly kids from local soccer leagues in the Bay Area — weren’t too familiar with the dueling teams.

The Wizards are defending Western conference champions of the MLS, while the Fire are trying to rebound off an 8-13 season, but the team formally known as the Wiz was too much for Chicago to handle, as it lost 3-1.

But since the Tampa Bay Mutiny packed its bags in 2001, soccer fans from St. Petersburg to Land O’ Lakes have to rely on these exhibition matches.

The game was scoreless through most of the first half, but with less than four minutes left, a Chicago defender had a hand ball foul in the goal box, setting up an automatic Kansas City penalty kick.

Josh Wolff lined up the ball and scored into the upper right-hand corner of the goal over Fire goalkeeper Zach Thornton, who had three saves on the night.

Quickly into the second half, the Wizards came out striking as Davy Arnaud scored two goals within less than a minute and half of each other.

Chicago was able to put a goal away for itself late in the game when Andy Herron squeezed a goal past diving back-up goalkeeper, Christopher Sawyer.

But what’s really interesting about Thursday’s match-up between two of the more premiere teams of professional soccer wasn’t what happened on the field, it’s for whom they were doing it.

The proceeds for the game are going to help the USF men’s soccer team, which went 10-5-2 in the 2004 season, and unassertively lost in the first round of the Conference tournament.

And earlier in the week, the Bulls were able to test their skills against a Major League Soccer franchise. On Tuesday, the men took on the Wizards on campus, but lost 3-0.

USF coach George Kiefer was happy with his team’s performance in the first half, but after that said, “The floor just let out from under us.

“I thought we played very good in the first half (Tuesday),” said Kiefer, who was college roommates with Kansas City goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi. “I thought it was an even game, even though Kansas City didn’t have their top squad out there, because everyone there is a top college player. Though I definitely thought it was a step in the right direction for the program.”

Apparently, the Bulls took many steps in the right direction because the players were able to impress a few of the Wizards’ notable players.

Coach Bob Gansler — soccer’s equivalent of Phil Jackson — said he was not only impressed with the way USF played but with the hard time the Bulls gave his team.

“They’re a good college team and they nearly squeezed (a goal) in there in the first half,” Gansler said. “Coach Kiefer does a good job with good personnel. And I would look forward to playing them every year.”

Gansler’s star player, Wolff, agreed with his coach, saying USF’s standout forward Hunter West was an “all- around solid player.”

“They’ve got some good individuals that certainly showed well,” said Wolff. “(Keeron Bentio), I’m not sure where he’s from but it looked like the team had a little Caribbean flash on the ball.”

So the MLS came and went quickly into Tampa, but it left a lasting impression on USF and its men’s soccer team. But as Kiefer realizes, the team still has a lot of work, though at the same time he is still appreciative of his professional counterparts.

“Its nice of them to say (we played well). It’s not something they have to say and it just shows how much class Kansas City has.”