KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Graham Zusi was already having a great September.
Before Friday even rolled around, the month had already seen him capture a share of the MLS assists lead, help Sporting KC put together their longest unbeaten streak of the year, and make a strong case for a starting role with the US national team.
All of that served as prelude to Friday night's 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire.
OPTA Chalkboard: Sporting apply the forecheck in physical affair
Zusi, in what may have been his best game as a pro, scored both of Sporting's goals, in the 11th and 96th minutes, for his first multiple-goal match of 2012 and the third of his career.
“The great thing about this team is anyone can take the spotlight at any time,” said forward Kei Kamara, who assisted on Zusi's first score. “We took the pressure off each other tonight. With Zusi being known as somebody who usually sets things up for us, [the other team] doesn’t always expect him to score goals. But he’s a great finisher.”
Manager Peter Vermes agreed.
“Obviously two great goals by Graham,” Vermes said. “The first one was world class, the second one was a nail in the coffin at a great time.”
That was only part of the story, though: Zusi was all over the pitch – passing, defending, making runs on and off the ball, and in general playing like a man in the grip of a barely controlled fury.
“Actually,” he said, “I was having a pretty good time out there.”
Zusi has been having a lot of those lately for club and country. For the Yanks, he turned in a strong outing in the midfield in a 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Jamaica on Sept. 11, a performance that's expected to put him back in the XI when Guatemala visits Livestrong Sporting Park for an Oct. 16 qualifying match.
And for Sporting, who now lead the East by five points over the second-place Fire, Zusi – who has moved into a winger's role to make up for injuries to Bobby Convey and Jacob Peterson – is a huge reason that Kansas City are unbeaten in their last nine and the only East team already qualified for the playoffs.
He has two goals and two assists this month, and five assists total over the lengthy unbeaten string.
“He is a talented player.” Fire captain Logan Pause said. “He has been a big piece for this team this year and over the last couple of years. There is no secret to that. Whether he is playing out wide or inside, you know that he is a threat.”
Zusi would rather talk about his team's success, though – and what remains to be accomplished.
“In no way are we satisfied with just what we’ve done so far,” he said. “We want to win the Eastern Conference, possibly make a shot at the Supporters’ Shield and then make a run at the MLS Cup as well.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.