KANSAS CITY, Kan. – As the first quarter of 2012 draws to a close, Graham Zusi’s stock continues to rise with both club and country.
After starting the year with his first two games for the US national team – and notching a game-winning goal against Panama in his second appearance – the offense-minded midfielder has continued to build on his breakout 2011 season with Sporting Kansas City.
Zusi leads MLS with four assists in three games. Add that to the goal he scored in Week 2 against New England, and he’s second in the league in points behind Seattle scoring machine David Estrada – and a big reason Sporting is off to a 3-0-0 start.
WATCH: Zusi picks out Collin
And he’s not even at 100 percent yet, still working his way back from a right quad strain suffered during his time with the US side.
“He’s starting to get out of that,” manager Peter Vermes said Sunday night, after Zusi assisted on both of Sporting’s goals in a 2-1 comeback victory against FC Dallas. “He’s actually more and more healthy every week. I hope that as we go into this week, he’ll be feeling even better physically, which will mean he’ll be able to provide us with the kind of playmaking that he can do.”
Zusi, who emerged as a midfield dynamo in 2011 following Jack Jewsbury’s trade to Portland during the preseason, is quick to deflect praise to his teammates.
“When you have guys that can finish the way they do in the box, my part’s easy,” he told MLSsoccer.com after the Dallas game. “They do all the work. I just stick it in the box, and those guys finish it off, so I’m lucky to have them. The assists aren’t a credit to me. They’re a credit to them.”
WATCH: Zusi scores after scramble in the box
Zusi’s connection with his teammates is also a credit to Sporting’s ability to create and retain a stable core of young starters, which makes for on-field consistency and familiarity with each other’s skills and preferences when it comes to creating chances.
“I try to put the ball in the same place every time,” he said, “and they do a great job of being in those spots. “
But center back Aurélien Collin, who headed in Zusi’s long free kick for Sporting’s first goal on Sunday, said Zusi shouldn’t sell himself short.
“Zusi did 90 percent of the work again,” Collin said. “I was just blessed to be there at the right moment, right place.
“He has a very good foot, and you can see that,” Collin added. “He makes the good pass, has a very good view of the game. That’s why his deliveries are so good. He makes it easy for us.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.