He's a forward for the United States national team and the player opposing MLS defenses give their most attention, but Kansas City Wizards forward Josh Wolff doesn't care for the attention. Just give him his share of the burden, put him on the field, and watch him flourish.
Even though Wizards coach Bob Gansler complimentarily refers to him as the team's attacking 'catalyst', Wolff shrugs it off.
"It's a word that people use. I just go out and play. If coach wants to use a word or media uses a word, that's up to them," the 28-year-old said. "I enjoy playing -- I have a certain way I play. I just try to earn the respect of the players around me, that's all that really matters."
As the most explosive and skilled Kansas City attacker, Wolff will be counted on to be a large influence on the Wizards fate as they continue to chase a playoff berth Saturday at home versus his former side, the Chicago Fire, who traded him in 2003 for the third overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft.
"He's one of our leaders. What he's there to do is obviously score goals. He's been doing that, but on top of that, he causes problems for other defenses," said one-time strike partner turned wide midfielder Davy Arnaud.
Wolff might downplay others' comments about him, but he is more than willing to take any mantle handed to him -- a point made in relation to the 'catalyst' label his coach has given the 5-foot-8, 160-pound frontrunner.
"More importantly [catalyst] speaks to his expectations of what he should be contributing to his team. He knows he needs to show the responsibility, he knows he just can't be another pony trotting along -- he's got to be the lead horse," Gansler said. "I think he relishes that, and he thrives on it -- he expects it of himself. This is how he is, and this is what makes him the exquisite player that he is."
Said Wolff: "I'm a competitor just like the rest of them. If more responsibility is put on my shoulders, that's fine. All of us enjoy that for the most part, but you still have to deal with it in the right way.
"When our team's having its most success, which we had a good month of August, I think you have a compilation of players being involved. I'm not going to say that I'm at the center of it," Wolff said. "I play a role in that, Kleiny [Chris Klein] plays a role, Davy plays a role, Scott [Sealy], and Sash [Sasha Victorine].
"... But for me as an individual, I try to make the guys around me better just like the guys try to make the players around them better. I'm aware of what's going on around me and the guys and their strengths, where Davy or Scott want things, how Kleiny likes to set things up."
A part of the mix on gameday, Wolff becomes a leader during training sessions, working to perfect his game and helping others.
"At least a couple times a week we have self-help sessions, and he takes the lead on that," Gansler said. "He knows what he needs, he knows what the young guys need, and he, once again, not only does it for himself, he does it for others."
Exceeding his career high in assists by two and only one short of equaling his career high of 10 goals, which he has achieved twice, Wolff has used his considerable savvy on the ball to fulfill his role of goal scorer and provider as he leads the team with nine goals and nine assists with three matches left.
But lately teams have been enhancing their efforts at stopping the double-edged danger, and he has had to rely on his versatility to show there is no sheep's clothing for this Wolff.
"I can show up underneath and certainly stretch back and get in behind them. ... It's just being aware. That goes along with having guys around you; that's how all of this works. When the game's not finding you, you have to go and find it," he said. "If you want to hide, you can hide and avoid the game. But I want to try and make plays. I can't stand losing as most of the guys around me. So I'm going to try and search it out."
At a time when longtime Wizards offensive lynchpin Preki is winding down his career in Kansas City, Wolff seems ready to carry on the considerable tradition the MLS legend began.
"I take whatever role and responsibility is given, and I'll take a little more responsibility on my own," he said. "But I'm not trying to emulate or assert my name where someone else has been. I don't try to fill anyone's shoes, and I'm certainly not going to fill Preki's shoes. I don't think I'm of that caliber -- two different players, two different positions."
And when Wolff finishes his job helping the Wizards get to the playoffs and beyond, don't expect him to take the credit. He simply just wants to win no matter what it takes.
"He's the kind of guy who doesn't need [the limelight]. He's doesn't look for the camera. He isn't going to sprint for the microphone. That's not his way," said Gansler. "We all like to have our work appreciated, but he's not somebody who needs to have the light shining on him 24 hours a day. To me it's an indication that he wants to be appreciated, but he also knows when he's done a good job.
"He also knows when he's done an average job. He knows that sometimes there are things that he left undone and he wished he hadn't. For me, he is a very good professional, and he is a level-headed young man that goes about his business in a serious fashion and for darn sure in a very astute and comprehensive fashion."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.