Six years ago, Kansas City's Kerry Zavagnin was floundering around Major League Soccer trying to eek out a living. Now he is an important middle-man for his country's national team and one of the top teams in MLS.
Zavagnin, the only true defensive midfielder on the national team roster, may well see significant time for the U.S. when they play Saturday in Foxborough, Mass., versus El Salvador and in Panama Wednesday - two matches in five days.
"I'm expecting to play a part in it," Zavagnin said. "I don't know exactly at this moment if I'm going to start or get a majority of the playing time. I know I'll play in some sort of capacity, and that's something I'm looking forward to. Hopefully I'm prepared for it."
Being prepared is what Kerry Zavagnin is all about. He is driven, no matter the situation, by an immense desire to win.
"The approach that I've taken with both teams is that I wanna be a part of a successful team and that includes bringing my best game," he said. "And whether it's with the national team or with the Wizards I haven't really changed mentally what I need to do. I need to give good performances, and I hold myself responsible as much with the national team as I do with the Wizards. And no team is more important than the other for me. I want to be on a successful team, and I want to help my teams win."
The squad assembled by Bruce Arena and his staff includes many veterans, like Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Cobi Jones, sprinkled with relatively internationally inexperienced players, like the MetroStars Eddie Gaven. But each player understands the immensity of being part of a national team that qualifies for the World Cup finals.
"It's a good atmosphere. I think everybody knows what's on the line and what's at stake, and we're in a situation where everybody's playing for the team," Zavagnin said. "It's a good environment, and that's a credit to the coaches and the leaders of the team."
Wednesday evening, Zavagnin's focus was on listening to the Wizards' match in Chicago against the Fire. It was the game the Wizards' had in hand on their conference rivals the Galaxy and a win would have put the Wizards in a strong position going into the final seven matches of the season in their quest to win the West. Unfortunately the Wizards' roller coaster of performances continued as they lost 3-1 to a more ambitious Fire side.
"We have players that we put out on the field each and every game that are capable of getting it done. And on a consistent basis for the last month or so, we haven't," stated Zavagnin. "We've put together some good performances but we need to be a little more consistent especially as we get down to the stretch here where every single game really matters and each game is magnified. We need to realize that and take advantage of the opportunities that we have in front of us and not get caught up in what we haven't done in the last month or so."
Both the Wizards and the U.S. national team have their fate in their own hands this weekend, and the urgency of each situation should lead to attacking play by each side. Zavagnin summed up the national team's approach.
"We kind of want to get after them, especially early in the game, and put a lot of pressure on them," Zavagnin said. "We're expecting El Salvador to drop back and look to counterattack."
No matter approach, winning is the goal for both of Zavagnin's squads.
"I think we'll get it done on Saturday," Zavagnin said.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.