KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City opened training camp on Monday, but three of the team’s key players already had their first game experience of 2012 while eyeing even more action at midweek.
Midfielder Graham Zusi and forwards Teal Bunbury and C.J. Sapong all played in the United States’ 1-0 victory against Venezuela on Saturday, with Zusi and Sapong making their debuts for the national team. Both Zusi and Bunbury got starting nods from coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and all three will be available when the US face Panama on Wednesday.
One interested observer on Saturday night was Sporting manager Peter Vermes, who said his charges looked a little off compared to their 2011 form for Sporting KC.
“You could see that all of them were off-rhythm a little bit,” Vermes said after Monday morning’s training session. “Like C.J., if it had been the middle of last year, with his form the way it was, his timing in the air, there were a couple of balls that he would have scored on.
“But I’m happy that they all played, because they all deserved to be given a shot. From that standpoint going forward, it’s going to be good for their development all around.”
Vermes’ measured take echoed the mixed reviews the three Sporting players received after Saturday’s game, although commentators tended to like Bunbury’s early runs as the lone forward and Sapong’s energy as a second-half substitute.
They were less kind to Zusi, criticizing his touch on the ball and his crossing ability from the run of play. On set pieces, though, Zusi was his typical precise self, setting up one of the chances of the game when he curled in a free kick that FC Dallas’ Brek Shea nearly buried.
Vermes dismissed Zusi’s struggles as typical first-game nerves.
“I don’t read into any of that stuff, to be honest with you,” he said. “My assessment is that it was his debut, his first time in the national team, coming from where he’s come from, the expectation should be what it was. I thought he had some good balls.”
The Sporting manager also noted that Klinsmann used Zusi as a winger rather than in his usual central midfield role.
“His better place is in the middle of the park, where he wasn’t,” Vermes said. “But I thought he did a good job outside.”
Sapong, who came on for Zusi in the 74th minute, earned Vermes’ praise for his physicality in the area.
“There were some times when he was going up for a ball, and some other guys were going up with him and they thought they were going to crush him,” Vermes said. “Then the guy was getting up, going, ‘Oh, my God, what did I just hit?’”
And while Bunbury was unable to find the net in his 88 minutes of work, Vermes liked his active play in the game’s first hour.
“I thought that he was very dangerous in the game,” he said. “Being that it’s so early, you’re off a little bit on your timing, when you hit the ball, stuff like that. That piece of his game needs to get a little bit better, but that’s over the next couple of months. He’ll be fine.”