The Full 90

Meet the Wizards: Part III, The Midfield

The Wizards extreme international makeover will be most noticeable to the naked eye (or ear) in the midfield. Five new internationals (from Senegal, France, Moldova and England) were brought into the squad. Which means that well, there's a lot that isn't known yet.Who's going to start? How many will start (the team could go from a 4-3-3 to a 4-5-1 easily)? How can a team have


holding midfielders on one roster? Is a trade in the works? Will the two most recognizable faces from last year be stuck riding the pine?And, most importantly, who will translate all the different languages being shouted in the middle of the pitch?

It's likely that the names and numbers on the back of the player's jerseys won't be enough to keep you from saying, at least twice, "Wait, who is that again?"So, in an attempt to clear up any confusion and formally introduce the newest Wizards, here is The Full 90's first-annual "Meet the Wizards" position-by-position preseason breakdown. We've already taken a closer look at the goalkeepers and the backline, now we'll look at what is likely a completely different midfield than 2009.

You won't be seeing...

Claudio Lopez

Herculez Gomez

Kurt Morsink

Kevin Souter

Lopez was out of contract, Gomez wasn't going to be a part of Vermes plans (though he's scoring a ton with Puebla in Mexico), Morsink is in DC with Curt Onalfo and Souter was injured most of last year (and didn't stick after a trial with Seattle). With the exception of Gomez, I believe the new players brought in are all improvements over the players that left.

You will be seeing...

(* = projected starter) Stephane Auvray(*)

· Pronounced: steh-fahn OH-vray

· Number: 8

· Born: Sept. 4, 1981

· Hometown: Les Abymes, Guadeloupe

· Last Club: Nimes Olympique (France)

· Acquired: Signed Jan. 21, 2010

· Experience: 11th pro season (1st MLS)The captain of the Guadeloupe national team has been playing in France his entire career. (Guadeloupe is considered an overseas department of France, so people born there are French citizens.) He is a hard, holding midfielder and will be entrenched as the starter at that position from day one.

First impressions:

From his signature dreads to his give-everything-he's-got mentality, he will endear himself to the fans quickly. He also will play a role the team has sorely missed: a box-to-box, ball-winning midfielder. The second-best signing this off-season.

Fun with the media guide:

"Left the island of Guadeloupe at the age of 14 to join the youth academy of SM Caen in France.*"

*These are real quotes from the 2010 Media Guide. Further reading: Instant fan-favorite, I'm telling you. Further watching: Beautiful goal in the Gold Cup. Birahim Diop(*)

· Pronounced: Bee-ra-heeem Dee-op

· Number: 27

· Born: Feb. 7, 1979

· Hometown: Thies, Senegal

· Last Club: FDR United

· Acquired: Signed March 17, 2010

· Experience: 12th pro season (2nd MLS)I firmly expect a holding midfield duo of Auvray-Diop to start the season. He's a favorite of Wizards assistant coach Octavio Zambrano (who coached him with the MetroStars in 2002 and with Tiligul-Tiras Tiraspol in Moldova in 2008). Diop is well-traveled player: He's played with US Rail and ASC Jeanne D'Arc in Senegal, ASC Manhattan, FDR United and the Lebanon Stars in New York City's amateur leagues, Deportivo Pereira in Colombia, and Tiligul-Tiras Tiraspol in Moldova.

First impressions:

I have yet to see him play, as he was nursing an slight knock during the last preseason game. Based on my formation analysis, I think the Wizards will employ two midfielders to cover the back line while the wing backs join the attack. Diop fits that bill better than Santiago Hirsig.

Fun with the media guide:

"His favorite American food is steak." I believe this is the real reason he came to KC

Further reading: His wiki bio. Ryan Smith(*)

· Number: 8

· Born: Nov. 10, 1986

· Hometown: London, United Kingdom

· Last Club: Crystal Palace

· Acquired: Signed on March 15, 2010

· Experience: 8th pro season (1st MLS)It's not every day that a product of the Arsenal youth system (who made his debut at the age of 16 in the Carling Cup) makes his way to a professional soccer team in Kansas City. Smith's biggest problem in England was a lack of scoring touch. Well, that and he played for pretty-much bankrupt Crystal Palace. Kansas City will be glad to take on a speedy winger who, at only 23 years old, still has a ton of unrealized potential. Hopefully some of that is a goal-scoring touch.

First impressions:

Claudio Lopez isn't walking in that door any time soon. Which is good, because we didn't sign him to a new contract this off-season. I'm going to venture a guess that a version that's about 11 years younger (with blazing speed) will be an adequate replacement. This was the best off-season signing. By far.

Fun with the media guide:

"Works with music in his free time, especially with hip-hop as a producer/performer."

Further reading: Despite the slight derisive tone and flawed logic of this article, the writer might have a point: If Smith is an American citizen, he could really help the US national team. Further watching: An interview with Ryan Smith. Santiago Hirsig(*)

· Pronounced: HEAR-sig

· Number: 10

· Born: Jan. 12, 1978

· Hometown: Buenos Aires, Argentina

· Last Club: San Lorenzo (Argentina)

· Acquired: Signed March 1, 2009

· Experience: 13th pro season (2nd MLS)Our biggest acquisition last season, could be a man without a position this year. He's a personal favorite of mine, an intense guy who tackles well, passes well and plays with passion. His fitness last year was an issue at times (he took a long time to get 90-minutes fit). Vermes has focused on fitness, so I'm expecting Hirsig will not have those same problems.

First impressions:

Was decent as the holding player last year, but he seemed unleashed against AC St. Louis when played in a more advanced position. Maybe he was playing for his job or maybe he was playing in a better position for him. I still expect him to be a target for a mid-season transfer.

Fun with the media guide:

"Appeared in an Argentinian commercial for Nike in 2008."

Further reading: His signing was apparently a "coup" last year. Jack Jewsbury

· Number: 14

· Born: April 13, 1981

· Hometown: Springfield, MO

· Last Club: None

· Acquired: 5th round pick in 2003 MLS SuperDraft (#43 overall)

· Experience: 8th MLS seasonThe Wizards 2008 Defensive Player of the Year wasn't the problem in 2009. He made 28 starts, notched 5 assists and can play in the middle, on right or at right back. He appears, for now, on the outside of the Starting XI looking in. Part of the problem is he is recovering from off-season surgery on his hip and he's not quite 100%. The other problem is the Wizards are clogged in central mid (his best position).

First impressions:

Action Jack played a few times in center mid this year, but I think his future with the club is as a Swiss Army knife. He's super-flexible and can be used to fill about five spots on the field in a pinch. I could also see him supplanting Diop if the Senegalese midfielder stumbles early.

Fun with the media guide:

"Favorite international soccer club is Liverpool." I won't hold that against him.

Further watching: An interview discussing his return from hip surgery. Roger Espinoza

· Number: 17

· Born: Oct. 25, 1986

· Hometown: Aurora, CO

· Last Club: None

· Acquired: 1st round pick in 2008 MLS SuperDraft

· Experience: 3rd MLS seasonIn January, the Wizards

denied the request of the Honduras' national team coach

to have Roger join a team in Honduras on loan to get more playing time before the World Cup. It was a curious decision at the time, as Espinoza wasn't a key figure in last year's team. And, with the international influx in the midfield, it would seem Espinoza isn't going to get a lot of time on the pitch this year. It would seem that way ... wouldn't it?

First impressions:

Espinoza will play big role on the team this year, the only question is if he's healthy. He took a minor knock in training last week. I'm not 100% sure he'll start the season opener. If he does, he could be utilized in a different position.

Fun with the media guide:

"Loves snowboarding, ice fishing and playing Call of Duty." Again, thank God for all these mountains in Kansas City.

Craig Rocastle

· Number: 4

· Born: August 17, 1981

· Hometown: London, United Kingdom

· Last Club: Forest Green Rovers

· Acquired: Signed March 15, 2010

· Experience: 10th pro season (1st MLS)Not the most popular signing this year. The product of the Chelsea youth system spent the better part of the last five years bouncing between some lower English leagues and the Greek Super League. The staff obviously saw something they liked with him, and he was in the Starting XI against ACSTL.

First impressions:

He seemed rooted to the ground for much of the game I watched. And, just when a few fans started to ride him a little bit, he whipped in a goal from the edge of the box. The jury is still out.

Fun with the media guide:

"Has five dogs."

Further watching: A media day interview. Igor Kostrov

· Pronounced: caw-strawv

· Number: 21

· Born: March 8, 1987

· Hometown: Bender, Moldova

· Last Club: Amutat Hapoel Be'er Sheva (Isreal)

· Acquired: Signed Feb. 25, 2010

· Experience: 7th pro season (1st MLS)A likely target of assistant coach Zambrano (who coached in Moldova), Kostrov was one of two Moldovans brought into camp for a trial this year. Kostrov impressed enough to warrant a senior international spot.

First impressions:

He's quick, quick and has a decent first touch. I want to see more before I form a firmer opinion, but I think he's a few years away from a regular starting job.

Fun with the media guide:

"Enjoys playing video games in his spare time, especially Pro Evolution Soccer."

Further reading: Two weeks ago, if you gave me a globe and spotted me 5 minutes, I might not have been able to find Moldova.

I set the over/under on "Moldova" references in his write up at 5. Moldova. Nailed it.

Graham Zusi

· Pronounced: ZOO-see

· Number: 28

· Born: August 18, 1986

· Hometown: Longwood, FL

· Last Club: None

· Acquired: 2nd round pick in 2009 MLS SuperDraft (#23 overall)

· Experience: 2nd MLS seasonHe was a goal-scoring machine at Maryland and that got him an early starting gig in 2009. But he wasn't quite ready for the speed and style of the MLS. He appeared in only 13 games (five of them starts) and will probably benefit from another year or two of pro training.

First impressions:

He will be a regular in Vermes' best 18 and will likely be brought on late in games when the team is chasing results.

Fun with the media guide:

"One of Zusi's all-time favorite movies is 'Tommy Boy.' " "Do you know where the weight room is? I'll check it out."

Overall feeling...


I like Smith and Auvray. I love Jewsbury as a super-sub. And I like the idea of pushing Chance Myers to the wing (which I'm not 100% sure they'll do yet). But I'm not certain what the overall plan is for the middle. Hirsig did nothing to lose his spot (in my opinion) but the new signings (Diop and Rocastle) will probably get first dibs. You know how it goes: You wear the shirt you just bought even though you've got about three dozen old ones hanging in the closet that have nothing wrong with them. They're just not new.

Catch up on the series:

Meet the Wizards, Part I: The Keepers. Meet the Wizards, Part II: The Backline.
Coming tomorrow: Meet the new strikers, strangely similar to the last strikers.