Facing the Wizards technical staff’s office space at the team’s training facility is a wooden door with a blue placard on it that reads “War Room.”
Inside are two large white boards mounted to the wall, a table and chairs, and a flat screen television complete with a DirectTV package that carries live matches from every corner of the globe.
This tiny space is where manager Peter Vermes and his staff spent months rebuilding the Wizard’s roster from the ground up and laying the ground work for 2010.
“In Arizona, my room acted as the ‘War Room’ away from our ‘War Room,’” Vermes said. “Those two places were very well used. Let’s put it that way.”
After countless hours scheming, scouting and negotiating, Vermes and assistant coaches Octavio Zambrano, Zoran Savic, Kerry Zavagnin and John Pascarella managed to bring eight international players to Kansas City in one offseason. No simple task in Major League Soccer, and an accomplishment repeatedly accompanied by failure.
For every player signed, hundreds came across the team’s radar. Separate estimates from different staff members put the total number of players scouted between 200 and 500. To gather that much knowledge the Wizards had no choice but to cast a wide net.
Luckily, Vermes had a crew of expert fisherman at his disposal.
Zambrano was previously a head coach in MLS with the Los Angeles Galaxy and MetroStars before spending three years coaching in Moldova and Hungary. His contacts helped bring in Moldavian Igor Kostrov and former MetroStar Senegalese Birahim Diop. He also turned the Wizards on to Guadeloupe international Stephane Auvray.
Savic’s eye for talent and connections, both in Eastern Europe and domestically, gave the staff a valuable network in which to search for talent. Pascarella scoured the United Soccer Leagues for a diamond in the rough and evaluated goalkeepers as the team attempted to replace veteran Kevin Hartman.
And although he was the least experienced in coaching terms, Zavagnin brought a unique perspective to the table. The 35-year-old only hung up his cleats a year-and-a-half ago having played for more than a decade in MLS and retiring as Kansas City’s leader in appearances.
"Kerry is like a pitbull,” Vermes said. “You can give him a name and he'll go find every piece of information about the guy."
For Vermes and his staff, collecting as much information as possible was the key to choosing the right pieces to fill out the Wizard’s roster puzzle. With overlapping contacts in MLS-friendly regions such as South America, Central America and Eastern Europe, Kansas City was able to crosscheck opinions from coaches, scouts and executives.
"Highlight videos and 90-minute games only tell you so much," Zavagnin said.
To that end, Zavagnin traveled to Colombia to scout Pablo Escobar in person, giving the staff first-hand knowledge that helped them pull the trigger on the Deportivo Cali defender.
Kansas City also raided the lower tiers of European football, bringing winger Ryan Smith, midfielder Craig Rocastle and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen across the Atlantic. They even found a way to sign Sunil Chhetri, the first Indian player in MLS history and only the third Indian to ever play abroad.
But while the successes stick out, there were also plenty of bumps along the way. Vermes estimated the team spent weeks working on a deal to bring Ghanaian midfielder Anthony Obodai to MLS, not knowing that his agent had offered the player to other teams as well.
One of those teams—the Houston Dynamo—filed a discovery claim on Obodai before the Wizards could, leaving the staff searching for players off the MLS radar.
"The situation just fell through," Vermes said.
Although plenty of players are shopped around MLS by agents every offseason, Vermes said it’s often more productive—and cost effective—to find players without having to battle league-wide competition for their signature.
After almost five months in the “War Room” building a team from the ground up, Vermes and his staff have had plenty of time to perfect their approach.
"There's not one way,” Vermes said. “There are so many different ways, and we've tried every single one."