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Zusi looks to build on USMNT success down stretch run

Graham Zusi (SKC - HOU)

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Graham Zusi keeps making 2012 his year of firsts with the US national team.

So far in 2012, Sporting Kansas City's All-Star midfielder has seen his first cap, first goal – and now, his first World Cup qualifying match. Along the way, he was part of the first Yanks squad to win on Mexican soil.

But Zusi has set aside, for now, his focus on another first – playing in the red, white and blue in front of his home fans. There's a lot of league action to be played, he said, between Tuesday's 1-0 win over Jamaica and the next home qualifier against Guatemala, set for Oct. 16 at Livestrong Sporting Park.

That stretch starts Friday, when the Eastern Conference leaders host Houston in the final regular-season meeting with their East rivals (8:30 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

“The only thing I can control is how I'm playing with the club,” said Zusi, who went 72 minutes at right midfield against the Reggae Boyz and just missed his second international goal when his first-half shot from distance smacked the crossbar. “That's what they're looking at. The reason you get called in for international duty is because you're performing well for your club.

"Now I'm coming here every day, trying to get better here and put those performances together with the club team.”

Still, Zusi was glad to get his first qualifying action – and to get it as part of US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's starting XI.

“It's easier to start a game and get into the flow of it, rather than come off the bench,” he said Thursday, during the team's weekly news conference. “So I think the start went very well for me.”

Observers agreed, giving Zusi high marks for his active play on the right side – something which didn't surprise Sporting manager Peter Vermes.

“He has an ability to break players down in different ways,” Vermes said during the news conference. “The other is his hunger. His transitional moment from offense to defense is fantastic.”

That's all part of proving that he belongs in the national squad, Zusi said.

“Every time you get called in, you're trying to progress your game,” he said. “This is my first year of being in the mix for national duty, so I came in in January and tried to make an impression. From then on, you're trying to improve your game and make every appearance that you have a better one.”

And if he gets a chance to do that at Livestrong?

“I think that would be pretty special,” he said. “To play in front of a crowd base that's primarily SKC fans would be a lot of fun.”

Vermes, for one, expects to see him there.

“There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be called in,” the manager said. “When you have a performance like this one, everybody sees it. Everybody knows it. Now, can he repeat that? That's the next piece to fall in line.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.