KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s a great time to be Graham Zusi.
MLS All-Star and league assists co-leader. Burgeoning US international who helped his country defeat Mexico on their home turf for the first time. Member of a Sporting Kansas City team who lead the Eastern Conference and have already secured a spot in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League by winning their first US Open Cup since 2004.
But the attacking midfielder/winger, who recorded his 11th assist of the year in last weekend’s 1-0 away win over Toronto FC, would rather talk about what’s next for his club and country than reflect at length upon what he’s done to date.
“The personal accomplishments, I really couldn’t care less about,” Zusi told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday’s training session. “That’s something I never think of at all. The team accomplishments – we’re always pushing forward. We set a goal of winning the Open Cup at the beginning of the year, and we’ve accomplished that. Now that that’s in our past, we can forget about it and focus on the Supporters' Shield, which is our next goal. And if we can accomplish that, then our next goal would be MLS Cup.
“You could ask anyone in the locker room,” Zusi insisted, “and they’ll tell you that our focus is the team accomplishments.”
One significant hurdle Sporting must overcome if they are to win their first Supporters’ Shield since 2000: the New York Red Bulls, who trail Kansas City by just two points in the East. The two sides will meet three times down the stretch, starting with Sunday’s match at Livestrong Sporting Park.
But their Open Cup victory over three-time champion Seattle gave Sporting a shot of confidence heading into the last third of their season, Zusi said, and Kansas City isn't likely to be daunted with a trophy on the line.
“I think right now we’re kind of high on confidence, and for a reason,” he said. “We’ve got a great team and we’ve been consistent throughout the year. This New York game is no different than any other, in terms of us preparing for it and then trying to go out and execute.”
Zusi came on as a second-half substitute in last week’s 1-0 victory over Mexico at Estadio Azteca and was on the pitch when Michael Orozco Fiscal scored the game-winner.
“It was really nice to get a win out of Mexico,” he said. “Overall, I think it’s going to boost our confidence going into these qualifying games, which are quite a bit more important. Don’t get me wrong – it was a monumental, historic win for the US, but I think it will do more for our confidence going into the Jamaica game and the other qualifying.”
And Zusi, who has three caps – all this year – with the Nats, hopes he’ll figure into coach Juergen Klinsmann’s plans for qualifying play.
“All you can control is how you play and the effort you put forward, and I think I did that,” he said. “It’s really up to them.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.