Near the end of practice Tuesday morning, Wizards coach Bob Gansler made sure his players spent the last few minutes in the hot August sun working on penalty kicks.
Although penalty kicks to decide a game that ends in a tie have become extinct during the Major League Soccer regular season, it's something that could come up in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game.
Gansler is leaving nothing to chance when the Wizards face the Dallas Burn at 7:30 tonight at the Blue Valley Activities Complex in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
“The tactics are simple. It's to win,” Gansler said. “Cup games, because of their must nature, always take a little bit different characteristic. It's going to be a fight to the finish. It's why we pulled out the PK (penalty kick) ritual.”
Through the years, the Wizards have sometime appeared to take a less than do-or-die approach in the U.S. Open Cup. They enter tonight's game with a 4-7 mark in the Cup games. Although they did reach the semifinals in 2002, the Wizards have had other moments when they lost to A-League teams and even a team below A-League.
“We are playing for something special in the Open Cup, and we are putting everything into it,” Wizards midfielder Kerry Zavagnin said. “We started our best lineup in Atlanta. That's an indication that we are very serious about this tournament.
“I think there is no question we have taken it more seriously. We've bowed out in the first round in previous years. A couple of years ago we made a pretty good run at it. This year we would like to win a championship.”
The Wizards beat the Atlanta Silverbacks, an A-League team, 4-1 in Atlanta on July 20. If the Wizards beat Dallas tonight, they will play host to a semifinal game Aug. 24 against the winner of the San Jose-Minnesota Thunder game.
Four of the eight teams left in the Open Cup are MLS teams. For any MLS team, the league title is much more important. However the Open Cup has its own prestigious history. The tournament is 90 years old, and the winning team gets $100,000.
“I think we've always been serious. Whether we come with the right attitude or not has been the biggest thing,” Wizards defender Nick Garcia said.
“I've won MLS Cup but have never won an Open Cup. It's one of the things I'd like to achieve and what better team and owner to do it for.”
Just as important, the Wizards want to prove that the tie and loss just before the All-Star break was a minor hiccup that will easily be cured.
The Wizards are fully aware of the slump that hit them last year right after the All-Star break. If it happens again, then some negative-minded people might call it a trend.
“A lot of people have made a big deal out of we have done poor in the summer months,” Zavagnin said. “But I don't see that happening with this team. The fact that we dropped one game here and tied another doesn't mean much to us now. We are focusing on the Open Cup.”
The Open Cup game comes at a great time for the Wizards. Without this quarterfinal game, the Wizards would have gone nearly three weeks without competition. They last played last Wednesday and lost 2-1 at Arrowhead to the MetroStars.
The Wizards' next MLS game is Aug. 14 at home against San Jose.
“The way our schedule came out, this game was extremely fortuitous for us,” Gansler said
Midfielder Jack Jewsbury said it was nice to get a rest, but the team is ready to go.
“We are all approaching this game like it was an MLS game,” Jewsbury said. “We want to make it to the finals and win it all. It's just like any other game. It's a big game.”
Through All-Star break
Game-winning goals: Gutierrez (2), Klein (2), Taylor (2), Arnaud, Jewsbury, Wolff.