Wolff, Zavagnin look to boost U.S.

While their MLS club team has put together a three-game undefeated streak while they have been away, Kansas City Wizards forward Josh Wolff and midfielder Kerry Zavagnin have also been encouraged by their own performances with the U.S. national team.

Both are ready to take themselves, and the United States, to the next level in the next two World Cup qualifying matches, Saturday against Costa Rica in Salt Lake City and Wednesday at Panama.

Even though each was picked to start in the friendly last Saturday versus England, Wolff and Zavagnin lamented opportunities missed in the 2-1 loss.

"I got in good spots and was dangerous to their back for the most part, got behind them a good bit," said Wolff from the national team's base in Provo, Utah, after earning his 29th cap at age 28. "The only thing lacking was the goal. It was a performance to build on. [But] with the national team, no matter who you are playing, you expect to get results."

Said Zavagnin: "I always tend to look at the things that I came up short on. There are definitely things and specific plays that I could have made better, and I'm going to try and correct that so I'm better the next game."

Saturday's match will make a difference in the CONCACAF standings as the U.S. is in second with six points and Costa Rica sits just behind, tied at four with Guatemala, in the hexagonal where the top three teams earn a ticket to Germany 2006. The fourth will enter a playoff for one of the coveted 32 World Cup spots.

The U.S. had what some might term a "good showing" against England despite the loss, but Zavagnin emphasized that is not enough.

"If you go into the game as a player thinking that and after the game settle for that, then you're not pushing yourself and you're not going to get to the level a lot of people in this program, and on this team, want to get to," said the 30-year-old Zavagnin, who earned his 12th cap in the game. "We've passed the point of being satisfied with just being able to compete with the top teams in the world. Now we need to get to the level where we expect to win when we go out there."

With the U.S. having become one of the two dominant teams in the region, winning every match -- especially in World Cup qualifying -- is not such an easy task due to the increased pressure of having a target on their back.

"We're not a team that's going to surprise anybody anymore, so it's important that every game we put the best effort forward and get the best result," said Wolff.

Getting results, and finishing opportunities, has much to do with a team's attitude.

"A lot of it comes from having a very aggressive attitude from the beginning of the game. That's something that you need to do, especially in World Cup qualifiers, is, from the opening whistle, put the opposing team under pressure. If you can do that, if you can constantly threaten the goal, you're going to get goals," Zavagnin said. "We know what a daunting task it is to go in the CONCACAF region and get points on the road, so that puts a little bit more pressure to have good outings when you are at home and to get three points, and that's our goal this weekend.

Both players are unsure if they will get a starting call this weekend at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday but will be ready no matter their role.

"We'll have to wait and see. The health of Eddie Johnson is probably the most critical [factor]," said Wolff whose knock-down header for Landon Donovan against England was deemed "exquisite" by Wizards' coach Bob Gansler. "Depending on if he's healthy or not will probably determine what kind of lineup we run with."

"It's a very competitive group; we have 24 guys in camp. Every guy is trying to make his case to be in that lineup. I'm just hoping to go out there, and, if and when I do have an opportunity, give my best performance. That will help this team get three points," said Zavagnin.

Wins Saturday and Wednesday by the U.S. would cement their position as a favorite in CONCACAF to carry on to Germany where they can take the next step and prove themselves against the finest in the world on the biggest stage of all.

Robert Rusert is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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