While in Florida promoting and helping with Gatorade’s Unreal Around the World contest, a program that provides select winners for a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the globe to experience trips in either Italy, England, Spain, Argentina, or Brazil with clubs like Liverpool, Barcelona and Boca Juniors, Graham Zusi took time to talk to World Soccer Talk.
Our conversation covered a number of topics, from Zusi’s World Cup with the United States, his famous “San Zusi” goal against Panama, and his new long-term contract with Sporting Kansas City.
Along with Matt Besler, who Zusi picked as a favorite teammate of his during his career, Zusi signed a Designated Player contract with MLS club Sporting Kansas City in the aftermath of the 2014 World Cup, and in the face of renewed interest from overseas.
When asked how close he ever came to leaving MLS, Zusi said that he, “looked at it, but I was under contract and no one came in to buy me.”
Zusi trained at West Ham in the winter of 2012, but he’s settled in Kansas City, at the only MLS club he’s ever played for. Zusi was in KC before the soccer boom that has made the city quite possibly the ultimate American soccer success story.
“I consider myself lucky to have seen both sides of it,” said Zusi. “I was there when we were playing in a Minor League Baseball stadium, maybe getting four thousand fans per game if we were lucky, to now playing in the best stadium and best fans in the country.”
The winger, who scored a terrific goal in KC’s hard-fought victory over Toronto FC at the weekend, fell back on the cliché that he’s “trying to get better every day,” when asked what his ceiling is in the sport, but noted that he feels like, “I’m at a club where that is happening.”
Zusi praised his club coach with Kansas City, saying, “Peter (Vermes) always prides himself in having the fittest team in MLS, year after year.” Zusi noted the similarities between Vermes and Jurgen Klinsmann, saying, “I actually think they’re very similar, in terms of their attention to detail focus on the little things.”
On the subject of fitness being an emphasis, Zusi stated, “Jurgen knows that US isn’t at the level of the best teams in the world, and fitness can help make up for that.”
Zusi’s most famous moment over Klinsmann, despite delivering the winning assist on one of the biggest goals in US soccer history to John Brooks against Ghana, was the goal that knocked Panama out of the World Cup and saved Mexico’s qualifying hopes in a game that was little more than an exhibition for the US.
Zusi said it’s sort of weird to be known for something so trivial in the narrow view of his own career, while noting with a sense of wonder the vacation offers and such that poured in from Mexico after the goal. “One reporter gave me a bottle of tequila,” he said.
Zusi’s stoppage time goal was a result of Americans “always playing to the final whistle. We were just trying to make the (World Cup) team.”
After that game, teammate Kyle Beckerman said that a Panama player asked him to take it easy and let Panama go through. Beckerman’s response? “I’m trying to get to Brazil.” Panama eventually lost 3-2, and Mexico went to the knockout round of the World Cup.
Zusi’s enjoyed his World Cup campaign, which interestingly enough started from the bench. Zusi came on as a sub when he put that picture-perfect corner onto the head of Brooks. Said Zusi of coming off the bench, “I don’t know if I was surprised. We had a lot of depth in the midfield and at that point Jurgen felt that Alejandro Bedoya was the man to get the job done.”
Zusi went on to start the United States’ last three games of the tournament, which he attributed in large part to Jozy Altidore’s injury and the USA’ resulting formation change that added a midfielder and subtracted a forward.
Zusi is at an interesting point in his career. He’s played in a World Cup. He’s won the MLS Cup. His club future is now settled as he hits the midway point in his career. Now, no one questions Zusi’s ability. What more can he achieve?
Zusi’s Sporting Kansas City’s next MLS game is at home Friday night on NBCSN against the Philadelphia Union.
Here are Zusi’s answers to a number of rapid-fire questions I posed to him:
Favorite Roadtrip? “I like the Pacific Northwest. Portland, Seattle.”
If you could add any MLS player to Sporting KC, who would it be? “Robbie Keane.”
A favorite teammate? “Matt Besler.”
Favorite game you’ve played in? “USA v. Portugal.”
(Zusi said the US’ fitness was a massive asset in the Portugal game in the brutal heat of Manaus, crediting it in large part with their second-half comeback that was ironically tinged when Zusi’s slow walk to the bench when he was substituted in the 90th minute may have contributed to a fifth minute of stoppage time, during which Portugal scored the equalizing goal.)
A favorite soccer announcer to listen to? “I usually put the TV on mute.”
U.S. Men’s National Team member, Graham Zusi surprised winners of the Gatorade “Unreal Around the World” contest on Tuesday, July 29 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida at the kick-off of their once-in-a-lifetime, two week global football experience. Winners submitted a video and essay demonstrating how their hard work translates to unreal performance for the chance to visit and train at some of the world’s most iconic clubs, including Liverpool, Arsenal, FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Boca Juniors and the Brazilian Football Confederation. For exclusive content of all five journeys, go to GatoradeFootball.com.
Photo credit: Eric Nalpas