GOAL: Graham Zusi takes it himself to give Sporting KC the lead

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With last year's injury woes fully behind him, and a semifinal run in the Copa America Centenario with the US national team under his belt, Graham Zusi is looking like himself again.

He won't be the one to tell you that, though – not even after his first post-Copa outing in MLS. That came last Sunday, when he scored his first goal of the year and bossed the game all over the pitch in a 3-2 victory over Columbus Crew SC.

But don't expect Sporting Kansas City's veteran winger to do any bragging. That's never been his way, and he's not starting now.

“It's one game,” Zusi told MLSsoccer.com after a midweek training session, ahead of Sunday's SKC home match against Eastern Conference leaders New York City FC (8 pm ET, FS1). “As far as I'm concerned, it's nothing to get overly excited about. It's one game. I need to keep the level high and keep consistency. Lot of questions after one game.”

Maybe so, but against Crew SC, Zusi was the one asking the questions. One just had to see his second-half goal from distance after a strong run through Columbus' midfield, or his powerful first-half free kick that caught the woodwork from 25 yards. His defensive play and movement off the ball also shone.

“I don't know if you saw anything different. I just think you saw Graham Zusi,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes told reporters on Wednesday. “I think he was man of the match. I think when you look at him, there was no answer for him in the game. There were times when he was making 50-yard runs with the ball, and they just couldn't stop him. He was unlucky to probably not score three goals, so to me that's who he is. That's the guy that I know.

“That's not to say that he hasn't played like that other games during the year. That's not the case. But I think he's in a good place. He's in a good place physically, which is something that has sometimes been a problem in the past.”

It was a problem last year, when a nagging foot injury hampered Zusi for much of the season. It prompted Vermes to ask USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to keep Zusi out of the Americans' January camp, so the veteran midfielder could continue his recovery.

The strategy is paying off. Zusi's Copa America Centenario stint included a turn-and-shoot blast against Costa Rica in the second match of the group stage, foreshadowing his strike against Columbus.

“You could tell Zeus was at another level today,” Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber told reporters after Sunday's victory. “I think he came back with a lot of confidence from Copa America. We need him to be like that. I think he showed it from his goal to his free kick to a few other things that he did. He was all over the field, and we need that from him continuously now.”

That's the expectation Zusi puts on himself, even though he insisted on Wednesday that he “only took what the game offered me.”

And his high expectations, he said, have nothing to do with what fans want to see out of him as a Designated Player.

“It's just because of the standard I hold for myself and I think my teammates hold for me,” Zusi said. “It has nothing to do with the outside world. It's myself, it's the coaches and it's my teammates that I try to perform for and try to lead by example.

“Yeah, you look back at performances and you see things you do well, but there's always room for improvement as well. I guess I'm a guy who's always looking to be better and better. I'm never satisfied with where I am.”