Take back-to-back hotly-contested matches -- one for a championship -- determined by the slimmest of margins, add in substantial wear and tear on all regions of the body plus some fraying of the nerves initiated by the opponent and some scoreboard watching and what do you get?
"I'm pretty motivated to continue on and to go after the MLS Cup," said Kansas City Wizards midfielder Kerry Zavagnin, clearly inspired by his club's recent 1-0 victories against the San Jose Earthquakes last Saturday and then the midweek triumph against the Chicago Fire in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final.
Certainly success is a prime motivator, but no one is immune to the physical and mental fatigue caused by the rigors of competition.
"We've been fortunate up until this point of the year -- we've been the front-runners in the league, and we've done well in the Open Cup," said Zavagnin. "This team has had a knack, although we've been a little inconsistent at times of the year, for not getting too high or too low. And I think that's the makings of championship teams when you can push things aside whether it's positive or negative and focus on the task at hand, which for us right now is Colorado."
Keeping an even keel is crucial for a team, especially those at its epicenter. Zavagnin and fellow central midfielder Diego Gutierrez have the responsibility of keeping all the lines together to make sure it's the other team that feels the pressure of each pivotal match.
"Diego and I have a good partnership, a good understanding of what each other's going to do, and I think we've done well in getting pressure in the midfield," Zavagnin said. "He's a very energetic player and a very intelligent player, so it's not difficult to play with him in there. I think we've -- along with the back four -- done a good job of limiting the opponent's chances."
Wednesday night was a prime example of the 30-year-old Michigan native's point. The Fire had only one shot on goal during the whole 95-plus minutes.
"Those are the kind of statistics that we want to show game in and game out especially as crunch time gets closer," Zavagnin said.
As was the case last Saturday, the Wizards are presented with a chance to separate themselves from their competition in the tight Western Conference. The Wizards lead visiting second-place Colorado by two points with a game in hand as the Rapids head to Arrowhead.
And even though the Wizards suffered a 3-1 loss to Colorado on Sept. 10 in Denver, Zavagnin was confident due to his team's recent success.
"With the energy that we're going to get from this Open Cup win, playing at home, and knowing that it's an important time of year, I don't think we're going to have a problem getting up for the game," he said. "And if we do that, we're going to be successful."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.