KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Graham Zusi is back where he began 2012: training with the US national team. This time, though, the Sporting Kansas City midfielder isn't in the midst of the off-season; he's match fit and in good form.
“The World Cup qualifying matches – those are the games that really matter,” Zusi told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday from training camp in Orlando, Fla. “I think it would be a real thrill to play in those games.”
The United States open qualifying June 8 against Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa, with another qualifier June 12 at Guatemala. Before that, though, head coach Juergen Klinsmann’s squad will tune up with home games against Scotland on Saturday and Brazil on May 30, followed by a trip to Canada on June 3.
Klinsmann will make final cut-downs on Friday to name his active roster for the upcoming matches. If the results from Zusi’s last time with the national team have any bearing, he should have a good shot at making the squad. He made his US debut in January, scoring the game-winner his second time out in a 1-0 friendly win at Panama on Jan. 25. His recent success aside, he’s not counting on coasting on that result.
“I’m not sure how much of a basis [those performances] have on the next call-ups,” Zusi said. “I think this camp, right here and now, will determine that.”
Still, with six assists – second in MLS, behind only D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario – in Sporting’s 7-3-1 start, Zusi takes strong credentials into camp. And after sustaining a quad strain in January that slowed him early in the league season, he’s back up to full speed.
“For the January camp, as much as I came in fit, it had been a while since I played in a game or even touched a ball,” Zusi said. “Coming into this camp with a bunch of games under my belt and being really match fit helps quite a bit.”
Bouncing back and forth between club and country duties hasn’t required much gear-shifting, Zusi said, with Sporting also using the 4-3-3 formation Klinsmann has implemented.
“It’s a little smoother this time,” he added. “But it’s just a game of soccer, and both teams play a high-tempo, fast-paced game. So there’s not a whole lot of adjustment that I have to do.”
While Sporting will certainly miss having him in the center of the park, manager Peter Vermes expects Zusi to compete for a roster spot and to continue to figure into the national picture.
“The way he’s been playing and the way he continues to work as well, all of that is starting to pay dividends,” Vermes said on Tuesday. “It doesn’t surprise me that the call-ups are coming.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.