During Donovan’s self-imposed absence over the past four months, the Sporting Kansas City star continued his ascent in Jurgen Klinsmann’s side and has became a regular in midfield, leading many to suggest that Zusi could be the successor to Donovan when he does eventually step away from the USMNT permanently.
Consider Donovan duly impressed.
“I think Graham’s been terrific,” Donovan told reporters on Saturday after his goal and assist led the LA Galaxy to a 2-0 win over Sporting KC. “And aside from all the on-the-field stuff, I think he’s handled everything really well. I know he gets asked a lot about all this stuff and I said to him after the game that I think he’s doing a great job handling it.”
Zusi has enjoyed a rare meteoric rise from first cap to national team starter. It’s only been 15 months since his first-ever US call-up, where he was among the inexperienced pack in Klinsmann’s first January camp. But he earned his first international appearance that same month and then scored his first national team goal just four days later.
Since then, Zusi has appeared in seven matches for the USMNT, five of them as a starter, finding a home in right midfield for Klinsmann – a spot Donovan occupied over a good portion of his 13-year national team career.
Zusi’s 10 goals and 22 assists over the past two seasons – and role as Sporting’s primary set-piece taker – have catapulted him into the conversation of who will fill the void when all-time USMNT scoring leader Donovan does hang ‘em up for good.
“You could tell tonight he wasn’t completely on his game [tonight], but he has moments where he has something special,” Donovan said. “And I think he’s done a great job. He’s somebody who deserves to be where he’s at.”
And while the 31-year-old Donovan acknowledges there might be a competition with Zusi while the former tries to work his way back into Klinsmann’s good graces, he’s not exactly ready to hand over the torch to the guy five years his junior just yet.
“I look forward to continuing to battle back and forth with him and hopefully push each other,” he allowed. “He’s a lot younger than me. But don’t count the old guy out yet.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.