On the heels of a 3-2 loss to D.C. United on Sunday in MLS Cup 2004 after a triumphant season, five Kansas City Wizards are faced with decisions regarding their futures.
Key back Nick Garcia, the center midfield tandem of Diego Gutierrez and Kerry Zavagnin, and veteran goalkeeper Tony Meola all have contracts that will expire at the end of the calendar year. Left back Jose Burciaga Jr., who scored six minutes into the Final, has graduated from Project-40 status and must be protected for Friday's expansion draft if the Wizards don't want to lose their rights for contract negotiations.
These five players represent a large portion of the Wizards' renowned defensive unit.
"It's going to be an interesting scenario here in the offseason," said the 25-year-old Garcia. "I think with two more teams coming in, with supposedly more money being available for teams cap-wise, it's going to [put] an interesting swing on things."
Prior to MLS Cup, Garcia said, "I'm up for talking. I know that the Wizards want to have me back. If I do return to the league, it will be with the Wizards."
Burciaga, Garcia's backline teammate, will need a new contract to stay in the league but he also expressed a desire to test the waters.
"I'd like to come back, but at the same time I'm going to keep my options open, see what's out there," he said. "I wouldn't mind coming back. We've got a good team."
The former Under-23 U.S. national team performer, who turned 23 on Tuesday, has made himself a valuable entity through solid play this season.
One of the five players in question has signed back with the Wizards and the league although an official announcement is not expected to be made for another week. Nearing the end of what has been perhaps his finest season, Diego Gutierrez, who captained the Wizards over the final months, confirmed his status a week before MLS Cup.
"I anticipate an announcement quite soon. I've already signed a new contract that won't be announced until after [Cup]," he said.
Also enjoying a fine season was Zavagnin, Gutierrez's mate in midfield. Zavagnin seemed more reflective than the rest when discussing his future.
"I look at my career in Kansas City and I find a lot of highs, and a few lows. When weighing my options of wanting to be here, it's a situation where I've progressed as a player in Kansas City, and I need to re-evaluate my future here," he stated.
"If they want me to be around, and were both happy with that, then I'd like to start [negotiations]. We'll have to wait and see. It's something that I'll be considering in the next couple weeks here, hopefully everything works out for the best for both parties."
Meola's future with the Wizards may be the one with the most question marks and the most possibilities. After going down with Achilles' tendonitis in late August, Meola played only one match -- the U.S. Open Cup Final -- the rest of the season due to his injury.
Meola claimed to be ready to play in the MLS Cup Final on Sunday, but his replacement, Bo Oshoniyi, received the call.
After Sunday's loss, Meola declined discussion about his future.
"Not right now, no. I'm just trying to get off the fact that we lost in the final," he said.
Clearly, the Wizards General Manager, Curt Johnson, and head coach Bob Gansler, have a lot of work to do and decisions to make in the coming days, weeks, and months.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.