KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Next week, Graham Zusi will face Mexico for the first time since grateful fans there canonized him for saving El Tri's World Cup hopes. He's not expecting an adoring reception from Mexican fans once the opening whistle sounds, though.
“I didn't see one when we played down in Mexico City, so I don't see this one being any different,” Sporting Kansas City's star winger told reporters on Thursday during Sporting's weekly news conference. “Like I've said all along, I think once these two teams get on the field together, it's going to be business as always.”
Zusi's last trip to Mexico, though, was to take on Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, not to face the national team, who were in danger of missing out on the World Cup during the hexagonal. Zusi’s late goal against Panama on Oct. 15, 2013 bailed out Mexico by knocking out Los Canaleros. Grateful fans lauded him as “San Zusi,” and at least one entrepreneur churned out combination US-Mexico kits with his name on the back.
All that will be forgotten, Zusi said, who was called up for the friendly in Phoenix (April 2, 11 pm ET, ESPN/UniMas), along with Sporting center back Matt Besler.
“In the three games that I've played against them now, it's always a spectacle,” he said. “They're our biggest rivals for a reason, and there always seems to be that level of energy around a game. Whenever we get a chance to play them, we always take a big amount of personal pride in trying to get that win.”
Mexico had an overwhelming early lead in the series, but in this century the US have a 12-5-4 advantage and haven't lost to El Tri since a 4-2 defeat in the 2011 Gold Cup final.
But with this being the last friendly before Jurgen Klinsmann sets his World Cup squad, Zusi said, there's more riding on this match than cross-border bragging rights.
“I'm sure everyone will treat it as the tune-up game that it is,” Zusi said. “There's obviously some parts missing, but we're coming down to crunch time now. So every chance that we get to be on the same field together is a measuring stick and a chance for us to get better as a team and get more knit together.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.