Burciaga flubs, forgets and finishes

In the 69th minute of Wednesday's match against Columbus, Jose Burciaga Jr. met a cross in his own box struck by Crew left-winger Chris Henderson. With full intention of clearing the ball, Burciaga chested the ball down too hard and deposited it right to the foot of Crew midfielder Simon Elliott.

Elliott touched a shot off that rolled past Wizards goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi, but came back off the base of the left-hand post of the Wizards goal. The ensuing rebound was primed for Guatemalan teammate Mario Rodriguez who put it into the net for a 1-0 Crew lead.

The guffaw was clear, and so was Burciaga's reaction.

"All you had to do was look at him -- he was cursing himself more than anyone else was," said Wizards head coach Bob Gansler.

The error and the awe-inspiring recovery that followed was a microcosm of the 23-year-old's eventful career.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Texas native began his MLS career in 2001 by playing in three matches at age 19. By the end of that year, the promising left back had earned a two-year total of 37 caps with the U.S. under-20 national team and his soccer future appeared on course.

But on April 4, 2002, Burciaga suffered a torn ACL in his left knee that forced him to miss all of the MLS season. An outstanding 2003 preseason followed that earned him the starting left back spot on Gansler's club before tearing his right ACL and missing the remainder of that season.

Remarkably, his value as a player did not lower as he managed to spend significant time with the under-23 U.S. squad during his turbulent 2002 and 2003 seasons.

Then came last year, the year in which he would solidify his status as a contributing member of his club by playing his first full season with the Wizards, recording a goal and an assist while holding down the left defensive flank in 24 matches for the best defense in MLS.

Burciaga's up-and-coming status was then confirmed in the sixth minute of MLS Cup 2004 when he scored the first goal of the title match with a long, low, scooting drive that rippled the far netting of D.C. United's goal.

Wednesday's recovery from his failed clearance was indicative of Burciaga's saga.

"He's a young man who is mature beyond his years in terms of playing this game," said Gansler. "He knew there were some more plays left in that game, and he was going to put his stamp on it."

Forgetting an error that put your team in the unenviable position of having to recoup a goal just to gain a tie at home is not easy. Yet Burciaga held firm.

"[It was] my error. We all make errors, but [I had] to learn from it. I [had] to get rid of it -- get it out of my head," Burciaga said.

And so in the 76th minute, Burciaga took the responsibility of being the go-to man on a free-kick earned when forward Preki was fouled by two Crew defenders some 25 yards from the Columbus goal.

His first time left-footed strike from a Diego Gutierrez tap was rifled into the right corner of the net and tied the match, earning Burciaga redemption.

"After hitting crossbars and posts throughout the years, I finally got a break, and thank God it went in," said Burciaga of his first goal at Arrowhead Stadium. "It's something we work on everyday in practice. As long as I get it on goal and make the goalkeeper make a save, it has a good chance of going in the back of the net."

Gansler recognized the glory of both Burciaga's goal and the importance of Burciaga's learning.

"The free kick obviously was a Hollywood type of making up," Gansler said. "But that's a bad decision, and he knows it. I don't think it will happen to him again."

Having survived numerous ups and downs in his career, Burciaga had no trouble moving on after the match either as he looked forward to the Wizards next contest on July 4 in Denver.

"I'm ready for Colorado Monday," he said.

And even if he flubs, look for Burciaga to put his stamp on that match too.

Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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