Graham Zusi has made plenty of big plays for Sporting Kansas City since his breakout season in 2011. But with his performance in the season opener, Zusi showed himself capable of taking on another role: the player who completely takes over a match when his team is in trouble.
After Sporting's wobbly first half-hour allowed Philadelphia to take an early 1-0 lead on Saturday, the star right winger and US National Team mainstay led Sporting back to a 3-1 road victory with a goal, two assists and solid work on and off the ball during the decisive final hour.
“We've got certain guys on the team who can change the outcome of a game and he's one of those guys,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “When he's on, he's on. That was huge for us and huge for him.”
And bad for the Union's hopes of pulling an upset in their home opener – hopes that took their first serious blow when Zusi pounced on Benny Feilhaber's saved shot in the 41st minute.
“That definitely was a momentum killer,” Philadelphia midfielder Michael Lahoud told reporters on Saturday. “It definitely slowed down the pace a little. I thought we were flying high, feeding off the crowd, feeding off our own play.”
Zusi placed the equalizing shot perfectly, sending it just over goalkeeper Zac MacMath and just under the crossbar.
“I wish I had the whole net to shoot at,” said Zusi. “I made myself nervous for a second there and I had to put it out over his head. But rebounds? I’ll take them all day.”
Zusi, who led MLS with 15 assists last season, picked up his first helper of 2013 when Uri Rosell ran onto his free kick without a marker anywhere nearby and headed it home for the winner in the 66th minute. Zusi's second came in the 83rd, when his pass to right back Chance Myers started the sequence that led to Claudio Bieler's game-clinching goal.