Fringe players savor chances in K.C.

KANSAS CITY - A chance to positively impress the minds of their coaches and teammates, a chance to earn significant minutes, a chance at a moment of glory, these opportunities are what anyone not in the first team especially dreams of.

And lately for the Kansas City Wizards, Brian Roberts, rookie Ryan Pore and veteran Alex Zotinca have seen their dreams become reality.

"I savor those opportunities - the idea that you can be the guy to make the play or to possibly come in and help save the shutout that's going to get us to the playoffs or get us to the next round," said Roberts, a second-year developmental defender. "That's my role, and if I can come in and make that play, then I've done my job. And that's what I mean to do."

On the bench for all three of the Wizards' recent matches, gaining nine minutes against the Crew, Roberts is looking to add to his total of 10 appearances and three starts. And he appreciates the expectations that coach Bob Gansler and his staff have for all players no matter their status.

"[Gansler's] just always on us whether we're starting that week or whether we're coming off the bench. He holds us to the same standards as he would a player who is starting, which is where I hold myself to," Roberts said. "He keeps us prepared just as if we're going to start."

Wizards assistant coach Brian Bliss is another believer in the system and of setting the bar high.

"You can't write these guys off by no means because given the opportunity, they seem to rise to the occasion. I think that has a lot to do with the atmosphere in which we train them," he said.

Pore, starting his fourth game of the season and his first since July 23, fulfilled expectations and a personal wish by scoring his first MLS goal only 50 seconds into last Saturday's 2-2 tie at the MetroStars.

"It's a load of the chest to finally get it," Pore said. "And now that I have it, I can play my game and go out there and score more goals. It's always hardest to get that first one under your belt; once you do that, others seem to come a bit easier."

The goal will surely benefit Pore's case for minutes, even though he appreciates and understands his role.

"It feels good just to be in that mix, and know that you have a chance to get in there and make a difference," said Pore, who played just the first half after gaining 17 minutes against Columbus on Aug. 26.

Getting in the mix and staying there is a difficult task unless you perform well nearly time out, as rookie Scott Sealy has done on his way to becoming a top Rookie of the Year candidate.

But cases such as Sealy's are rare, a fact complicated by a lack of consistent matches for players who don't see enough minutes with the senior squad to stay match sharp and fit. The reserve matches are a help, but even they have been an inconsistent aid, as the last reserve match for the Wizards was July 21, necessary due to player absences caused by the CONCACAF Gold Cup, World Cup qualifying and U.S. Open Cup games.

"It can get frustrating at times. You don't get reserve games and when you go on a trip like this past weekend where we don't use a whole lot of subs, it's almost three days off for me," Roberts said. "So you have to stay on top of yourself, go to the gym on your own, and make sure you are fit, so when that one play does come around you can make it."

After an early run of poor form and a lingering right quadriceps pull, one-time starter Zotinca has seen some time lately, including a full 90 minutes at the Meadowlands last Saturday.

"He started off with a lot of minutes. Somewhere along the way he lost his confidence a little bit. The team itself wasn't finding their way either," said Bliss. "We never got a rhythm, so Alex never found one either. Unfortunately, when he was out, we won a series of games and it was difficult for him to get back in there."

The versatile 28-year-old Romanian has been anxious to get back on the field, so much so that he dealt himself a setback.

"I'm good to go now. It took longer than I expected. It was part my fault too," said Zotinca. "I felt a little knot there [in his right quadriceps], but I just want to keep playing. It aggravated.

"For a long time it felt weird not being on the field and not traveling. I had more time with my family, but it felt weird, like I knew I had to be somewhere. It didn't feel good," he said.

Besides being a veteran, Zotinca has what he considers another advantage over the younger players.

"The closest people I talk to about my game [include] my family to whom I send home my tapes. My brother played and my dad played [soccer], and they're not very nice about it if they don't like what they see; they tell me straight up front. It gives me a little heads up once in a while," he said.

These three have gained an advantage over others on the Wizards' roster, but anyone could receive the call to perform at any time.

"Down the stretch all guys will be counted on whether its 20 minutes here, 15 minutes there, a start there, a start here, a half here," Bliss said.

Bob 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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