The new central midfield partnership for the Kansas City Wizards share more than a unique surname -- they are two of the just 10 players in Major League Soccer history whose last names have begun with 'Z'. While they also share a desire for team success and now similar positions on the field, they oppose one another in the way they ply their trade and in their opinions on how their team should go about its business.
Alex Zotinca, the 28-year-old native of Sibiu, Romania, is a versatile talent who like Kerry Zavagnin is happy to be a regular contributor to the team and will do whatever it takes to foster its success. Yet, on the field, his demeanor is the antithesis of Zavagnin's.
"He's talkative. I'm honest about it -- I'm not too talkative on the field," said Zotinca. "That's just the way I was raised. I was raised just to keep my mouth shut and do the work."
The normally orally reticent Zotinca became comparatively outspoken, though, when the topic was broached of what the Wizards need to do to better close out leads.
"At times we're too rushed. We just have to get a grab on that ball a little longer and slow down," said Zotinca, who played in the 1999 UEFA Cup with Romanian club FC Steaua Bucharest. "We're just so much into that fast forward game which I love -- we have a lot of goals so far -- but we come to a point where we have to say, 'Hey, slow down, let's keep the ball. We've got the advantage on the scoreboard. Let's try to keep it and have them chase it instead of us chasing them.'"
Zavagnin, unaware of Zotinca's comments, would beg to differ.
"It'd be nice to keep the ball. But we're a team that strikes quickly with the ball. It's very rare that we put 10-15 passes together. That's not our style, our personality," he said. "It's something we can work on and get better at, but last year I don't think we possessed the ball a great deal either and nobody was complaining at that time."
The two did find common ground though in their openness to working on keeping the ball for longer times.
"We always look to make the killer pass," said Zotinca, lamenting the sometimes hasty passing errors that result from a quick effort at a counter. "We can get there, just different ways. We can work on it."
Some claim that MLS matches in April and May are for a team to experiment and not focus so much on wins and losses because of the generous playoff structure. This theory does not work for Zavagnin or Zotinca, who do agree that finding a winning formula sooner rather than later will serve the Wizards well in their mission to end up in MLS Cup 2005.
Having found an attack that works, the Wizards are doing some soul-searching as they have undergone an unintentional transformation in their team defense from a nearly impenetrable barrier to team that has allowed an alarming 31 shots on goal, nine more than the most allowed by teams with five games played.
"We need to be more stingy defensively in holding onto a lead because we've given it up every time this year," said Zavagnin. "That's a cause for concern. That's something that is very uncharacteristic of this organization and this team as a whole. We tend to be a little bit routine at the moment and that's not enough if we're going to be at or near the top of the league."
Zotinca was every bit as adamant when pointing out the importance of developing winning habits early in the season.
"Every game has its history. We learn from a loss; every game is important. Every game is worth three points, and that's what we strive for," he said. Despite their differences, Zavagnin and Zotinca are together when it comes to their team's mission. That spirit will be the key ingredient as they work together at the epicenter of the Wizards exploits in Columbus this weekend against the Crew, and it was what Zotinca emphasized in his prediction for the match.
"If everyone does his own job first, I think we'll come back to Kansas City with at least a point," he said.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.