Wizards battle to Toronto FC to a scoreless draw

It shaped up as a mismatch Saturday afternoon at BMO Field, where Toronto FC puts its perfect home record on the line against a Wizards club still searching for its first point on the road.

But thanks to a few clutch saves by goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who also got strong play in front of him from central defender Jimmy Conrad, Kansas City managed a 0-0 draw in improving to 2-5-3 overall.

“I really commended the guys for the work ethic they left on the field,” first-year Wizards coach Peter Vermes said by phone from Toronto after the scoreless affair. “Our objective was to gain some points on the road No. 1, but the other thing was we came here with a point already, so we came in here with the idea not to give away that point and to try to steal the other two.”

Defender Pablo Escobar returned to the starting lineup after two games on the bench for a Kansas City defense that looked shaky at the start.

Jacob Peterson swooped in from the right side in the eighth minute for a one-on-one run at Nielsen, who deflected the ball out of bounds for a corner kick with his face.

A few minutes later Nielsen, who stayed down for a couple minutes after taking the shot off his noggin, was forced to make a kick save on a dangerous cross by Chad Barrett that was ticketed for a pair of teammates at the backpost.

Nielsen later turned away another first-half one-on-one chance by Julian de Guzman when Toronto, 5-4-3, was playing a man down.

“Jimmy Nielsen has been probably the most consistent performer for us,” Vermes said. “He has made some huge saves for us over the course of the last several games. You need a keeper that can keep you in games, which he did early on today and that's tremendous.”

Kansas City, which had been 0-4-0 on the road, caught a break in the 26th minute when Toronto defender Nick Garcia, who played for the Wizards from 2000 to 2007, drew a straight red card and an ejection for a reckless spikes-up challenge that left Kei Kamara's right thigh bleeding.

But Kansas City's offense, which has only four goals in the last seven games and played without captain Davy Arnaud, struggled to generate dangerous chances.

Part of that was the team's grind-it-out strategy to start the game, which couldn't be adjusted until halftime.But the sides also went back to even strength in the 57th minute when Craig Rocastle, who was making his first MLS start in the midfield for the Wizards, picked up his second yellow card and also was ejected.

“If we'd have had the man advantage for the duration, I think we would have gotten forward and created a lot more chances,” Vermes said.

Arnaud missed the game because of his ejection last Saturday at Real Salt Lake.

Kansas City also was without Roger Espinoza, who is preparing for the World Cup with Honduras, and injured midfielder Stephane Auvray.