Zusi steps up when it counts for US in Panama victory

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Graham Zusi got the chance many MLS fans believed he earned with his performance over the course of 2011. On Wednesday night, he converted that shot into his first goal in a US shirt.

This January camp was relatively full of newcomers, and many of them did quite well in their first chance with the full national team. While Zusi’s play was far from perfect – the young winger exhibited jitters at times and was never quite on with his final ball – the Sporting Kansas City star stepped up when it counted in Panama and buried his chance early in the first half.

The goal stood up despite the Americans playing much of the second half short-handed. Besides the goal, the winger says this game experience has served him well.

“It’s huge for myself to get those first two games under my belt,” he told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “I took a lot of experience away from it and it’s great to get that under my belt. The way the game is played at this level, it’s a bit faster, the decision making has to be a bit quicker, and that’s what I take back to KC. Hopefully, this is just the beginning for me and it’s not something I’m just going to be satisfied with.”

Zusi got on the scoreboard quickly at Estadio Rommel Fernández. When a cross came in from the left flank just nine minutes in and careened around the area, he stepped up at the six and slammed a shot into the top of the net with authority. Then, not much happened.

“I think I might have kind of blacked out a little bit,” Zusi said of his post-goal thoughts. “A bit of excitement – I think you could tell by my lack of celebration that I didn’t know exactly what to do.”

Now the midfielder heads back to Kansas City at near full fitness, with the MLS season on his mind.

“It’s a good time, talking to a few of the guys the team came in extremely fit,” he said of his Sporting teammates. “So we don’t have to worry to much about the fitness in the preseason, we can just worry about fitness and getting down to basics.”