KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Graham Zusi's versatility has long been one of his biggest selling points, both with club and country. But he's been a fixture on the left wing so far this season, and that's where he's likely to stay for the most part.
“I'm trying to keep him consistently on the outside,” manager Peter Vermes said on Wednesday, during the club's weekly news conference. “I'm trying to give him a real routine in that position, if you will, without having to push him around.”
Part of that has to do with the arrival of speedy right winger Sal Zizzo in an offseason trade from Portland, Zusi told MLSsoccer.com ahead of Saturday's game in New England (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“I think with Sal being so comfortable out there on the right, that's why I've been staying out on the left more,” he said. “But it's a position I've played quite a bit. It's just a matter of Sal being comfortable on the right side, and we like to kind of keep our shape as much as possible.”
Zusi's situation is similar to that of another US international with whom he's frequently compared, Vermes said.
“He's got a little bit of the same affliction that Landon Donovan has,” he said, “in that a lot of times Bruce [Arena, Donovan's coach with the LA Galaxy] can use him on the left, on the right. He can use him in the midfield. He can use him up front. Graham has the same affliction. He's that kind of player that you can play in a lot of different positions.
“But I think that we've added a lot to our team,” Vermes added. “I think our team is solid in a lot of areas. Now it's time for him to get that consistency in that position – as much as possible, obviously. Different games pose different situations. But because he's played consistently there over the course of this year, I think he's found a good rhythm.”
Through six league games, Zusi has one goal and three assists and has continued to earn praise for his creativity in the attack and work rate at both ends of the pitch.
“Graham's as steady as it gets,” Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “He's going to work his ass off the entire game. He's going to be running around, creating space for you and for himself. He's a guy that you can pretty much always count on to have a good performance.”
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And while he's not naturally left-footed, Vermes said, having Zusi on the left wing actually gives Sporting an advantage at times.
“When he cuts inside the field, he's on his right foot,” Vermes said. “And when you cut in like that – if I'm cutting in this way and the goal's that way, then my body's between the other player and the ball. So it gives him a chance to have a little bit of room there, and he becomes another playmaker inside. On the right side, he's showing the ball more to the defense and it's easier for them to take shots at him.”
But wherever he is on the pitch, Zusi said, he's just looking to help Sporting succeed and to solidify his spot on the US roster at this summer's World Cup.
“Putting a strong campaign together with your club, that's the majority of your tune-up for the World Cup,” he said. “As long as we're playing well, the confidence continues to grow. The final roster isn't named until just before the tournament. At no point can you relax and say you have a spot. You have to continue to play well. That tournament has a lot to do with who's in form at the moment.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.