KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Graham Zusi isn't used to watching from the sideline at his home ground – or anywhere else, for that matter. But there he was, on the bench for the first half of the United States' World Cup qualifier against Jamaica.
Once the Sporting Kansas City midfielder came on as a halftime sub, though, he delivered a needed shot of energy – and the game-winning goal in the 77th minute of a 2-0 victory that clinched first place in the Hexagonal standings for the Americans.
“You always want to be on the field, contributing as much as possible,” Zusi said. “You sit there and try to read the game when you're on the bench. But when I learned that I was going to come out in the second half, I was pretty excited to get in there and try to make it a fun game.
“I knew we were struggling a little bit to get in behind them and create chances, and my job coming off the bench was just that – to try to cause a spark and get things going a little bit,” he added. “That's all I could have asked for."
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann gave Alejandro Bedoya the start at right mid ahead of Zusi – Bedoya's first start of the Hex stage – but said it wasn't because Zusi had underperformed.
“It was a tough decision before the game to leave Graham out of the starting XI,” Klinsmann said in the postgame news conference, “but we felt like Alejandro Bedoya has been, the last couple of months, really coming along tremendously well.”
Bedoya rewarded Klinsmann's confidence with the assist on Zusi's goal, after Zusi came on for Landon Donovan at the break.
“The substitutions at halftime, we discussed that as a coaching staff, as we always do,” Klinsmann said. “'What options do we have?' We felt like we needed something. We've got to speed it up. Landon had problems getting into this game, but he was not the only one.”
Zusi, for his part, said he welcomed being pushed for minutes.
"I think it's needed,” he said. “I think there's great depth in this team, and we're pushing each other each game and each practice as well. I think that competition is needed for a team to do well.”
Zusi also credited Bedoya for his second effort on the assist.
“Ale did well to get in on the right side,” he said. “I think his initial cross was blocked, but he stuck at it and did really well to get that second effort in to me. I think after a little bit of a mis-hit by me, I saw it going into the bottom left.
“This one was a nice one to get, especially to do it in front of the home fans. It made it a little extra-special for me, and I'm sure for them as well.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.