Faced once again this weekend with the national team call-ups of striker Josh Wolff and midfield stalwart Kerry Zavagnin, Wizards coach Bob Gansler will be forced to jumble his lineup, but that brings out a strength in his club.
The veteran Wizards head man said he is content with the versatility of his squad and that his team is filled with a number of complementary parts - which leads to the seeming unpredictability of his first-choice team each week.
"We're not a team that needs to play the same 11. We're a team that needs to play about seven of the guys all the time," Gansler said. "[We have] versatility. If I were convinced that we had 11 guys that were lock-tight cinches against every opposition, we would do it that way. But we're not blessed with that."
Even when he's had his full team available, Gansler has shown the flexibility to move players around within his tactical formation depending on the opponent.
"We're blessed with enough talent and versatility. Jose [Burciaga Jr.] can play in midfield and left back; Diego [Gutierrez] has played in midfield and left back too; Kleiny (midfielder Chris Klein) can play a variety of things in midfield whether it's wide or tucked in or whatever else," Gansler said. "It makes things more comfortable out there because we can do a number of things."
Furthering his point is the case of center back Shavar Thomas, who was forced out of last week's match versus Dallas because of an ankle sprain.
"I think [Thomas] should be ready. There's a little bit of discomfort yet. We worked him with the second unit, and Taylor [Graham] is ready. We worked him with the first unit, so we'll see. I thing we've got two good options."
The Wizards will face a challenge Saturday against resurgent D.C. United, a side that gave them fits last time they met.
"We know that probably our worst game of the season was played in D.C.," Gansler said. "I think there are some films in the archives someplace, and I think we might show a snippet or two of (them) and remind them of that."
Gansler said he believes his club's ability to overcome player absences stems from modest confidence and its veteran core.
"They're a good bunch. I think they're confident enough that they're good enough, and they're humble enough that they don't think they're too good. A lot of credit [goes] to the hierarchy," he said. "The Meolas ('keeper Tony Meola), the Conrads (defender Jimmy Conrad), the Gutierrezs, the Zavagnins, the Kleins, they're good people that set a great tone. That's why we are doing what we're doing as well as we're doing it."
The performance of his team through the first half of the season has also made things easier given the preseason loss of Preki and Igor Simutenkov - injury absences that had many pundits expecting the Wizards to fall to the bottom of the Western Conference from the start of the campaign.
"I think what we have in our locker room right now is good enough to get the job done. I guess it's the luxury we have right now that we have two quality guys getting ready," Gansler said. "We don't have to rush them 'cause these guys are taking care of business. They'll make us better when they come back, but they'll come back a week too late rather than a day too early."
Bob Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to approval by MLS or its teams.