These days, Graham Zusi is widely regarded as having one of the best right foots in MLS but his journey to the international stage has been far from straightforward. The Sporting Kansas City wide midfielder, who was drafted into MLS with the then-named Kansas City Wizards at the age of twenty-two, reached a new pinnacle in his blossoming career when he started against Germany in the USMNT’s final game in the group stage.
The 27-year old produced an impressive 43 assists in his club career from 2011 until now but he struggled to make an impact in his first couple of seasons. His 2009 and 2010 seasons yielded just one goal and one assist from 35 appearances as the Wizards failed to qualify for the play-offs. However, 2011 proved to be a breakthrough year for Zusi as Sporting’s Head Coach Peter Vermes placed more creative responsibility on the Florida-born midfielder. Sporting Kansas City went all the way to the Conference final and a new star was born.
The next two seasons saw Zusi being named his club’s player of the year twice consecutively. He also showed great versatility by at times playing in a central area and not just in his usual wide right position. His creative talent was now on display for all to see as he was the architect of 15 assists in just 32 MLS games. Moreover, his crossing ability and set piece delivery is a nightmare for defenders and a dream for goal poachers. Appearances in the MLS all-star teams of 2012 and 2013 followed.
International scouts were alerted of his obvious qualities and Zusi was invited for a trial with English Premier League club West Ham United in January 2013. Unfortunately, a deal failed to materialize but the Kansas star admitted that the experience was of great benefit to his career.
At the age of twenty-five, Zusi, who has a degree in Criminology, made his debut for the United States national team. Whilst his performances for the national side have pleased American soccer fans, it’s in the eyes of Mexican supporters that he will long live in the memory. His last minute equalizer against Panama in the World Cup qualifiers ensured that Mexico advanced at the expense of U.S.A.’s opponent for that day.
After being impressed by his dangerous deliveries and hardworking attitude, Jurgen Klinsmann chose Zusi as part of his 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup. The Sporting midfielder started the victory against Ghana on the bench but his introduction proved to be instrumental. An inch-perfect delivery from a corner kick found fellow substitute John Brooks who headed home the winner. An injury to Jozy Altidore then made way for Zusi to start the next game against Portugal whereby he was credited with another assist as his pass from the left found an unmarked Clint Dempsey who easily slotted the ball in. He started the final group game against Germany as well.
The Americans will be hoping that Zusi’s genius and massing runs from midfield will help unlocking a tough Belgian defense. A new chapter is waiting to be written in the U.S.A. number 19’s soccer career.