ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: You haven't heard Darlington Nagbe like this before. In a relaxed interview from the USMNT hotel, the Timbers man explains why the middle third is his favorite, why his family comes first and what representing his country means to him. Taylor Twellman joins for the complete US-Costa Rica preview. Subscribe now and "Like" our Facebook page so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
HARRISON, N.J. – The US national team is heading into Friday’s World Cup Qualifying date with Costa Rica with a question mark at right back, but Graham Zusi is more than ready to step up and fill the void if called upon.
The US and Costa Rica are set to meet at Red Bull Arena on Friday night (6:30 pm ET | ESPN, Univision, UDN), and Zusi is a strong candidate to start at right back for the Americans in place of the injured DeAndre Yedlin. Zusi has played the position plenty this year for both club and country after transitioning away from his favored wide midfield spot, and has done enough to consistently get more looks there under head coach Bruce Arena.
Whether the 31-year-old Zusi gets the nod once again on Friday is unknown, but he believes his recent experiences playing right back in World Cup Qualifiers and the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July will benefit him if he does.
“I wasn’t really trying to predict the future when I made the switch, but I’m glad I’ve been able to play in those kind of matches,” said Zusi. “It can really grow you as a player, and it can put you in situations that you need to see to get better and to play at that next level. Those kinds of experiences are always going to make you better.”
If Zusi earns the start, the US should have another outlet to play through in the attack. The veteran has demonstrated an ability to get forward regularly, and his penchant for crossing is another weapon that could aid the Americans’ attack as they attempt to break down Costa Rica’s organized defense.
Zusi will, of course, have to worry about his defensive responsibilities first and foremost if he plays, and that could require negating veteran attacker Christian Bolanos. Costa Rica did not have Bolanos at their disposal the last time they played the Americans – in a 2-0 US victory in the Gold Cup semifinals – and his addition will certainly provide a boost to their attack.
“Bolanos was missing [in the Gold Cup game] but we did see [Bryan] Ruiz and [Marco] Urena,” said USMNT head coach Bruce Arena. “Bolanos will be the addition. He is a good 1-on-1 player, serves good balls in. He’s a good player.”
There is a chance that Zusi could also go up against former Maryland teammate Rodney Wallace, but the American is ready to try and help his side pick up three more points on the road to Russia 2018 regardless of who he may line up against.
“These teams, there’s not a lot of secrets,” said Zusi. “Players like Bolanos and Bryan Ruiz and [Bryan] Oviedo coming forward as well. All guys that we’ve seen and know pretty well. Rodney is another one I know particularly well because I went to school with him. They all pose their different challenges, and we’ll just have to be locked in.”