Most of the credit for the successes of the Kansas City Wizards this season has gone to the men in the middle of the park and up front.
Between the goal scoring exploits of strike tandem Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud, the central midfield pair of Kerry Zavagnin and Diego Gutierrez, the late exploits of "designated scorer" Igor Simutenkov or even the timely goals of versatile wide midfielder Jack Jewsbury, including Saturday's 92nd-minute winner to send Kansas City into Friday's Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Galaxy, that is where the acknowledgements have been aimed along the way.
But there are two more complimentary players in Bob Gansler's lineup who have figured as fullbacks or even as flank midfielders all season long and haven't garnered nearly the attention of others on the team -- 27-year-old Romanian Alex Zotinca and 22-year-old Jose Burciaga Jr.
Both players played integral roles in the Wizards' improbable turnover of the San Jose Earthquakes' two-goal series lead last Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium. Zotinca sent in the timely cross intended for Jimmy Conrad that Brian Ching mistakenly put into his own net, and Burciaga found Igor Simutenkov with a well-placed long ball from his left back position that enabled Simutenkov to set up Jewsbury for the dramatic winning strike.
Yet the lack of recognition does not faze either.
"It doesn't bother me. I don't really need the attention, as long as I do my job, as long as the team is doing well," said Burciaga, who has overcome a series of major knee injuries that have kept his contributions to a minimum in years past.
"I'm just happy we won the game. I was excited," Zotinca said. "They had a lucky goal in the first round and the goal kind of met up with the other one. I was glad."
The offensive contributions from wide spaces helped a Wizards team that had difficulty scoring more than one goal for the last weeks of the season. Attacking from the flanks is sure to be an important weapon in the Wizards' arsenal this Friday when they face the Galaxy for the right to play in MLS Cup 2004.
"It's something I always look for. Coach [Gansler] has the faith in me because I know what kind of ball I need to play at the situation, what kind of run, what kind of ball I need to put towards the forward," Burciaga said.
Going forward at opportune times instead of sitting back will force the Galaxy's dangerous wide men like Cobi Jones, Chris Albright and Sasha Victorine to spend more time defending and likely allow the Wizards to control the pace and direction of the match like they did versus San Jose.
"I think we can take advantage of that," said Zotinca. "We think we can get them back door."
Those who believe in defense first need not fret, however. Burciaga and Zotinca both feel they can handle whoever Galaxy coach Steve Sampson decides to throw at them.
"If you think about it, all right-sided midfielders are good, decent attacking players. You've got [San Jose midfielder Brian] Mullan, you've got Cobi, you've got [FC Dallas midfielder Ronnie] O'Brien, you've got a bunch of good players that can play," Burciaga said. "At the same time, I feel like I can defend anybody in the league one-on-one. I think over the years I have improved a lot on that."
"I think Victorine is going to be there [left midfield or back] which means a lot of running, a lot of battling," said Zotinca. "But I just have to match that and even more. I think we'll be OK."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.