Graham Zusi and Eddie Johnson’s Sterling Wide Play Critical to American Success in June

Wingers Graham Zusi and Eddie Johnson both played an important role in the perfect qualifying haul for the United States in June. The United States won all four June matches including a spectacular 4-3 victory in Washington against Germany to celebrate the US Soccer Federation Centennial. While much of the clamoring at the start of the month among US supporters was for a return of Landon Donovan, the exiled one-time poster boy of the game in the states, now the discussion revolves around the quality, commitment and consistency demonstrated recently by Jürgen Klinsmann’s side.

Graham Zusi, the Sporting Kansas City man was the player most often mentioned as “droppable” by supporters for Donovan at the start of the month. However, following the United States’ outstanding 1-0 victory over an injury-depleted yet game Honduras side in Sandy, Utah on Tuesday, Zusi’s place is secure.

Eddie Johnson spent a number of years in national team purgatory after his move to Fulham yielded little playing time and multiple failed loan moves. Johnson’s career was resurrected with a move back to Major League Soccer, and one of the top clubs in the region, the Seattle Sounders.

Johnson’s selection by Klinsmann for matches in early stage of CONCACAF qualifying was controversial. The Florida-born attacker burst onto the international scene in 2005 with several qualifying goals but cooled considerably thereafter and by the time the Hexagonal qualifying for the 2010 World Cup rolled around, he had been dropped by then USA Manager Bob Bradley.

Zusi was unavailable for the United States 2-0 victory over Panama but Johnson slotted in nicely moving over from the left wide position in the 4-3-3 the USA is now playing.  The crossing ability and attacking instincts of Zusi have contributed regularly to the positive offensive build-up by the US in qualifying while Johnson has been steady and shown an adeptness to play any of the forward positions in the formation.

Thus on Tuesday night, with Zusi again available, Klinsmann used both in wide positions, with the two often swapping flanks and playing inverted wingers at time. It was in this mode, where the right-footed Zusi cutting inside from the left flank was most dangerous giving the Honduran defense fits.

The development of attacking understanding by the United States under Jürgen Klinsmann has been remarkable. The goal of changing the style of play and maintaining possession while getting positive results has been largely accomplished in just under two years. This has also allowed the best talent in the player pool to rise to the top and shown the old game of sacred cows and automatic selections has been ended.

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