John Blazek is pleased with the performance of Wings coach LeBaron Hollimon and the team’s three-year plan is being executed essentially the way it was drafted.
Blazek, the Wings’ general manager, offered his vote of confidence for Hollimon and his pleasure at the second-year franchise’s progress in light of a disappointing season for a team with elevated preseason expectations.
Wichita is on the outside of the MISL playoff picture at 7-13 and likely must win most — if not all — of its remaining six games to have a shot at the postseason.
The Wings are 1 ½ games behind Chicago for the fourth and final playoff spot, a standing Blazek blames on inconsistency, injury and the departures of former original Wings Jamie Harding, Larry Inlow and Brian Cushing, who departed after last season.
“Sneaking in the playoffs this team could be good enough to win it, if we can get in,” Blazek said. “But also, we’ve got to win five in a row and that’s a challenge to these young men that they haven’t proven they can accomplish yet.…We feel it’s a three-year process. We’re 7-13 and that’s not the expectations that coach Hollimon and I and (Wings owner Wink Hartman) expect.”
Blazek said the aggressiveness lost when Harding, Inlow and Cushing left hasn’t been completely replaced. The Wings’ offseason plan was to add top scorers, including Geison, the league’s leading scorer with Missouri last season.
The on-paper improvement offensively hasn’t translated yet to the field as Wichita is last in the league in points, 21 behind the closest team. Geison and forwards Matthew Clare and Victor Quiroz have each missed at least four games due to injury, further causing the offense to regress.
The difference between Blazek’s assertion about the Wings’ talent level and the reality of their record, he said, doesn’t reflect on Hollimon’s performance. Clare and Geison are likely to return next week.
“I think LeBaron has done a great job,” Blazek said. “Injuries have affected us. I love his high expectations and he’s not afraid to let people know how he feels. He’s not going to pat them on the back when we’re 7-13. But these guys are good enough pros that they understand that 7-13 is not good enough here.”
Hollimon has significant ties to the community and to the team as a former player with the original franchise. But Blazek said those elements won’t come into play if he eventually is forced to negatively evaluate Hollimon’s performance.
“That’s my job as a GM,” Blazek said. “All the values that I look for in a quality head coach, LeBaron Hollimon has as good as anybody. Our (wins and losses) aren’t there yet. But this is our second year, and Ws and Ls will come.”
While working toward improving the Wings, Blazek has felt pressure from a vocal fan base that he says is growing impatient with two seasons worth of struggles. He recognizes that the base may begin to dwindle if the struggles continue.
“Soccer fans are the most passionate fans I’ve ever seen,” Blazek said. “They’re going to speak their peace, they’re going to give you their feelings. They wanted us last year to be 24-0.… You hear grumblings this year, but I think the third year is always the charm in professional sports.”