CARSON, Calif. — Graham Zusi arrived in US national team camp over the weekend following a week's training stint with West Ham United, another reward for a splendid year that began with his first US call-up last January.
Zusi, an MLS Most Valuable Player finalist from Sporting Kansas City, parlayed that camp into a regular gig under Jurgen Klinsmann, winning six caps — including starts in the final three semifinal-round World Cup qualifiers.
He and Chivas USA forward Juan Agudelo, also in US camp, spent last week in London with the English Premier League club, and Zusi called it a “good experience overall for me to see what it's like over there,” whether or not it leads to something more.
Do possibilities with West Ham exist?
“I really don't know,” Zusi said following the national team's training session Tuesday at the Home Depot Center. “I didn't really hear much from them. I didn't expect to hear much, because they're in the thick of their season right now, but I'm certainly open to options.”
Zusi has three years remaining on his contract with Sporting, and he says he's quite happy in Kansas City and ready to take on more of a leadership role in his fifth campaign with the club. He's been a first-choice midfielder the past two seasons, scoring 10 league goals and dishing off 20 assists, including a league-best 15 last year.
“My first couple years there, I took them as learning experience and looking up to a lot of the veterans, learning from them,” he said. “But now that I am kind of one of those older guys, I think it's my role to take some younger guys under my wing now and show them some of the ropes.”
Getting a taste of soccer elsewhere only broadens his ability to do so. Klinsmann was all for the opportunity in London, even if it meant Zusi and Agudelo would be arriving in camp nearly a week after everybody else.
“If you call it a training stint or you call it a trial, it's good for them,” Klinsmann said. “They are in a different environment and prove a point.”
The cultural experience made an impression on Zusi.
“The culture of the game over there, it's eat-breathe-live soccer — not only us [players], but the country itself,” he said. “That's a little bit different than over here. Every radio station over there is talking about soccer rather than the football-baseball kind of thing over here. It's just a constant thing over there, which is neat. It's really cool to see that.”
If the chance to play in the EPL arises, it figures to be tough to say no, right? Not necessarily.
“Each player has to go where's right for him,” Zusi said. “I'm not going to go over there just because of the name of the league. Right now, I think Sporting's a great match for me. Not so say I won't explore my options later, but right now I'm really happy where I am.”