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Everyman Gutierrez aids Wizards

Diego Gutierrez has become a team leader in Kansas City.

Photo Credit: 
Edward Zurga Jr./MLS/WireImage.com

almost.

"I've played left back; I've played sweeper; I've played man-marker; I've played defensive midfielder. The only thing I haven't played is goalkeeper because I think I even played a couple games at forward when I was in Chicago," said Gutierrez.

Gutierrez's gainful employment as a utility player began during his first season with the Wizards.

"When I came into the league we had a surplus of central midfielders, and Ron Newman felt that it was best for me, best for the team, to keep me on the field even if it meant playing me out wide," said Gutierrez. "I made a living doing that for six years, and I did pretty well. Some of my better years were playing out wide -- that's when I got my chances and got to play with the U.S. national team."

Even after suffering a devastating knee injury before the 1997 season -- which kept him out of action for the entire year -- Bob Bradley, then the coach of the Chicago Fire, saw enough to take Gutierrez with his eighth selection in the expansion draft. But four years later, when Wizards coach Bob Gansler had the opportunity to bring Gutierrez back to K.C. he did it -- even with a high price tag (a first-round pick in the 2002 draft).

Still, experiencing the game from a variety of viewpoints can certainly mold one into a savvy player, and it is likely that Gansler chose the Colombian native for that reason this season when deciding who to team with Kerry Zavagnin in the all-important central midfield spot. Besides, central midfield is Gutierrez's natural position.

"I'm playing a position that I'm very familiar with -- that's what I grew up playing my whole life," said Gutierrez. "(This year is) probably one of my better years in the sense that I've gotten a chance to play a position that I'm familiar with on a consistent basis. I think it's paid dividends for the team."

Even though the Wizards rarely dominate possession throughout a match, Gutierrez and Zavagnin rarely are dominated.

"I think we've had a pretty good balance, and we make it difficult for teams to play against us. With his reading of the field and of the game and my intensity and leadership, we really get after people. It's not too often that you see other teams out playing us in the middle of the park and just distributing the ball all over the place," said Gutierrez.

Playing his natural position has also required Gutierrez to become a more vocal leader on and off the pitch.

"I think I've been a little bit more vocal this year. You've got to realize that half of our team is based on guys that have been in the league one, two, three years max. Relatively, we're a pretty young team. You look at our squad and you can look at Chris Klein and you can look at Josh [striker Wolff], you can look at Tony [goalkeeper Meola], you can look at myself, and that's pretty much it. Jimmy Conrad has had a few years, but he's a younger guy. That's about it in terms of guys actually being vocal," Gutierrez said.

"For me personally it's been a year where I've had to step up and maybe be a little bit more vocal. But I like to think that in the previous years, I let my talking and my leading be by example on the field by my playing."

As far as on-field execution during crucial times in a match goes, the local talent (Blue Springs High School and Rockhurst College) has been up to the task, considering his three goals this season have all been match winners. And apparently Gansler has recognized both types of leadership from Gutierrez as he has entrusted the captain's armband to him in injured Tony Meola's absence.

But the ultimate test comes soon as Gutierrez leads his team into the continuing battle for home-field advantage Saturday in Los Angeles against the Galaxy and further into the playoffs.

Said Gutierrez: "We're not taking the foot off the pedal -- we continue to try and become a good team and to try to peak at the right time of the season."

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


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