The time between Sept. 10, 2004 and last Saturday's match against the Columbus Crew must have seemed interminable for Kansas City Wizards center back Shavar Thomas.
After an offseason trade from the then-Dallas Burn, and then a nagging ankle injury, Thomas had been a mostly regular starter for the Wizards up until Sept. 10 of last season.
After that match at Colorado (a 3-1 loss), Wizards head coach Bob Gansler permanently paired previous right back Nick Garcia with Jimmy Conrad in the middle of defense and placed Alex Zotinca at right back for Garcia, citing a desire for his squad to handle speedy forwards more ably. The die was cast, and Thomas only appeared again as an 89th minute sub in the last two regular season games.
Then, despite the renewing sense of a fresh start at training camp in February, Thomas came to camp this preseason less than fully fit. Fans wondered what the problem was with a player who had earned 12 caps with the Jamaican national team and had shown such promise through midseason last year. His coach, too, was let down.
A puzzling, patience-testing knee problem was the stealthy culprit that inhibited Thomas.
"I had picked up a little knock, and it affected my mobility. It wasn't an injury where I picked up a knock in a practice or in a game or tweaked it or anything like that. It was something I was feeling. [So] coach had to change things," said Thomas. "Going into the offseason, I still wasn't able to do much. The doctor said all I needed was some rest. It caused me not to be able to work as hard as possible in the offseason. As a result, I didn't come back the way I should.
"In the preseason, I was feeling it a little bit, but I still worked hard and worked my way in," he said. "The past two months I have felt very well."
Thomas's progress lately -- and his attitude -- has left an impression on Gansler.
"You've got to applaud him for how he's worked and how he's dealt with his own personal adversities," said Gansler. "He looks chiseled. And, for sure, he has been hungry, but he's been patient at the same time. He's dealt with his own personal disappointment in an admirable way. There's a lesson there somewhere."
Said Thomas: "I wanted to be out there. I knew what I needed to do was work hard and coach would give me my chance again. It was for me to show coach that I want this job."
Clearly pleased with Thomas and his performance in practice and reserve matches and looking to fine-tune an inconsistent defense, Gansler inserted the former University of Connecticut player into the lineup against Columbus at center back and moved Garcia out to right back. A clean sheet in perhaps the Wizards' strongest match of the season, a 4-0 Wizards victory, was the result.
Garcia, who has twice been asked to accommodate a positional switch in relation to Thomas, was complimentary.
"Shavar's done great for us. I give Shavar all the credit in the world. He could have easily said, 'It's me or the highway,'" Garcia said. "He's worked hard every day at practice, and him stepping in there and getting back in the groove of things has been flawless."
Thomas hopes the Kansas City defense will continue on the straight and narrow road, and he plans to be a prime navigator.
"I showed coach I can do it for one game," he said. "I want to show coach I can do it for the whole season."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.