Zavagnin still seeking to improve
Pardon six-year veteran midfielder Kerry Zavagnin for focusing on himself as he endeavors to fulfill his desire to play overseas.
"I'm exploring all options trying to do what's best for me; trying to make a decision that will put me in the best possible situation where I can be successful," said the Plymouth, Mich., native.
After having a dream 2004 season playing a vital central midfield role for the MLS Cup runner-up and U.S. Open Cup champion Kansas City Wizards, garnering league All-Star and Best XI status and starting a number of matches for the U.S. national team, Zavagnin desires to push himself farther.
"I want to go into a situation where I can improve as a player," he said. "And that's been my mindset since I joined the league and decided to become a professional soccer player, to get better.
"This [past] year I thought it was a step up from my previous year. I want to be able to make another jump up. Although it's very difficult, that's my goal, to continue to be a consistent player in the midfield and constantly improve my speed of play, while at the same time focusing on being a little more productive offensively," Zavagnin said.
Zavagnin was the hub of the Wizards midfield -- which anchored the stoutest defense in MLS last season. But Zavagnin left no doubt the Wizards playing system was a factor in his decision to try his chances overseas.
"I enjoy playing here in Kansas City -- it's my style. We defend well, we defend hard, and we counter quickly. That's a system I believe that I am good at," he said. "That, in no way, is a factor in making the decisions that I make.
"There are things that I want to work on, but I must also focus on how it fits into the scheme of the entire team that I'm playing on. Depending on the situation I'm put in, I want to provide what is best for the team."
It is that team mentality that has Zavagnin in an envious position of being in demand.
Even though Kansas City general manager Curt Johnson confirmed that the Wizards pulled their latest effort to re-sign Zavagnin after he confirmed that he was determined to exhaust all resources in investigating his European options, they have given him an open door to return.
"I had some good conversations in the last few weeks with Curt Johnson and coach [Bob] Gansler and I absolutely respect the fact of them having to prepare for the 2005 season. While I would have liked to having been able to postpone having to make that decision, it was something that I felt was the right thing to do in giving them the answer," Zavagnin said.
"That [a no-strings attached return] has been relayed back to me, and it's something that I certainly appreciate. There are situations that are better than other situations, but in my mind right now, a scenario of going back to the Wizards wouldn't exactly be the worst thing in the world because of the success we've had there and my ability to grow as a player and a person in Kansas City has been great."
Johnson said that the team is planing on moving on without Zavagnin in 2005 until he learns otherwise.
"Kerry has been very upfront throughout the process," Johnson said. "I am not able to predict the future. Our roster is filling up. There is no way to know where we will be if and when he returns.
"There is no animosity; we're just moving on to prepare the team for the 2005 season."
The odds of Zavagnin plying his trade in Europe change daily, according to what information he has received, and the conclusion to his effort to gain Irish citizenship has been slow in coming, which has tried his patience.
"It's a situation where you don't want to put your faith entirely in the hands of the government, but that's what I'm doing. I've been told it will be happening very shortly," Zavagnin said, whose maternal grandmother was born in Ireland.
Zavagnin is at a crossroads in his career -- he is coming off a superlative campaign, he would be a free transfer and he is 30 years old.
"I'm in a situation where perhaps it will be the only time to address this. That's the main reason for me going through this process," he said. "I don't want to look back down the road and think I could have done this or I could have done that.
"I want to try every personal avenue to be as successful as possible. If that means going to Europe, then I want to do that. If it means staying here in MLS, then at the end of the day maybe that's the scenario for me. But, at this moment I haven't exhausted my resources."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.