Diego Gutierrez

Gutierrez out, Victorine in for Wizards

While the week began for the Kansas City Wizards with the knowledge their captain will be lost for possibly a couple of months, that pain was soothed somewhat with the understanding that the club's main offseason acquisition could be returning to the starting lineup.

Diego Gutierrez, the Wizards team captain and central midfielder, suffered a fractured left patella during Saturday's 0-0 stalemate with D.C. United. Gutierrez and United midfielder Clyde Simms knocked knees in the 62nd minute of the match, but the veteran finished the match.

However, come Monday, the left knee had swelled enormously. After a physician's investigation, it was determined surgery was needed and that the recovery time would probably be 6-8 weeks.

The news is tempered by the near-certain return to action of Sasha Victorine, acquired from the Los Angeles Galaxy over the winter, who has started just two of the four Kansas City matches this season.

Victorine, a midfielder "by birth" according to Wizards coach Bob Gansler, could slide into the vacant central midfield slot in the lineup. But who will step into the central role of team leader on and off the field?

Wide midfielder Chris Klein is part of the answer as he will take the armband during matches, but Gutierrez plans on filling the other shoe by standing tall on the sidelines during training sessions and home matches.

"[I'll] try to encourage the guys, be supportive, and try to pass on the knowledge and the experience that I have to the younger guys," the 32-year-old Bogota, Colombia native said.

Gansler welcomes the influence.

"We need his leadership and his input -- he's a respected man in our locker room," he said. "He'll continue to contribute even though he can't be on the field."

Victorine was desperate to get on the field last weekend, but caution overwhelmed the inclination to test his strained left hamstring.

"Last week was tough because I really wanted to play," Victorine said. "And I had gotten to a point where I was really close, but I couldn't guarantee that I would be able to make it even 45 minutes without having to [risk] stepping back a few more weeks."

Gansler was non-committal about where the 27-year-old UCLA product might play, but Victorine is betting on right back, if all is well.

"I've been training, and it feels pretty good," he said. "The confidence I [was trying to get back] was being able to swing a ball right-footed. Running full-speed, cutting, and playing a ball [put] weight on the hamstring. That started causing me problems. [But] now I'm feeling confident again."

Victorine feels that his current fitness level should be good for 60 minutes for Saturday's home encounter with FC Dallas. Thus, Gansler will have to configure a lineup to fill-in at midfield for Gutierrez and at right back for Victorine for at least some period of the match.

"We're always looking. We're not a team that just has 11 starters. Nor are we going to put somebody in for Diego, and it will always be the same 11," Gansler said. "We're not a team that says formations win for us, it will be people, and our guys know that."

The open spots, especially Gutierrez's, will serve a broader purpose of intensifying competition on the club. Already Gansler has seen the results.

"We have very good practices on a daily basis - [the players] know that they have a chance. We feel badly for Diego because he has been a main contributor and a team leader. But at the same time, one man's absence is another man's opportunity," he said. "They all see that, and they all relish that. We had a hell of a practice this morning."

Surely, Gutierrez's soul, though experiencing severe personal disappointment, was warmed by the ferocity of the competition. And surely, he was voicing his approval and advice along the way.

"I know the team needs the leadership, especially when you have the armband. Guys look up to you -- they look for leadership and fire on the field. At the same time, it's another chance for a guy to step in," said Gutierrez. "Hopefully it's a young guy who needs the experience that makes my life difficult when I do get healthy again. That's what a team is about, you want to make sure that everybody is sharp and that everybody is ready to contribute whenever called."

"I'm confident that my group is good and will be able to respond," 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.

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