With U.S. all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan sidelined by a knee injury, former University of Maryland standout Graham Zusi, now an All-Star and MVP candidate with Sporting Kansas City, seems poised to take over a creative midfield role for the Americans during crucial World Cup qualifiers Friday night at Antigua and Barbuda and Tuesday against Guatemala.
My profile of the ever-humble Zusi, which ran in Thursday’s print edition, featured comment from three coaches who have mentored the playmaker at different levels: Maryland’s Sasho Cirovski, Kansas City’s Peter Vermes and the United States’ Jurgen Klinsmann.
Here are some additional quotes from the trio of coaches, as well as Zusi, that didn’t make it into the story:
On how pleased he is to see Zusi’s success:
I’m especially excited for Graham because he was not your traditional youth national team player or player that left college early. He’s a four-year college grad who got better with every year with Maryland, and he’s gotten better with every year at Sporting Kansas City. Now, he’s really hitting his stride. He deserves the call-up.
On Zusi’s growth as a player:
He’s more confident. Watching him is a lot like his senior year in college when all of a sudden he felt like it was OK to be the man.
On what makes Zusi unique:
His work rate is off the charts, but he’s also getting the ball and running at people. And he can beat you in a lot of different ways. He can beat you with the pass, he can beat you with the shot. And, of course, he’s probably one of the top two or three set-piece players in the whole MLS.
On Zusi’s unassuming attitude:
He’s not going to change. He’s going to be like that forever. That’s why he’s admired so much by his teammates and coaches. He doesn’t have this ego that gets in the way of his performance.
On Zusi’s versatility at Maryland:
His freshman year, we played a 4-4-2 and he played attacking mid and he played as a striker. And then his sophomore year out of a 4-3-3 he played a wing midfield position. And then when he was a junior and senior, he dropped back into attacking mid. But he’s played a lot of wing midfield.
On why Zusi finds success at different positions:
He’s a guy that because he’s so technically clean and he’s very athletic, he can play anywhere. You see him play on the left side, on the right side. He’s comfortable in the center of the park. But he’s added a more aggressive dimension to his game. He tackles harder than he ever did at Maryland [laughs]. That’s been, I think, a sign of added confidence, and just growth.
On Zusi’s approach to the game:
He’s a great guy. He’s very humble, very hard-working and really passionate about the game. I’ve had the pleasure of being around since he’s come to this club and to Major League Soccer, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him develop and grow. The up-and-coming players never realize that it’s never easy. There’s always work involved. Graham had to go through it as well and find his routine, and he’s really, really developing into a very solid professional.
On Zusi’s lack of playing time early in his career:
A lot of guys can get frustrated because they don’t think they’re getting the opportunity, that it’s not working. So they just give up because they can’t stand the test of time.
On Zusi’s ceiling as a player:
I think Graham showed a small percentage of how much impact he can have with the team and also in the game. He’s got a lot more upside coming.
On Zusi’s nature as a professional:
When I talk about professionalism, I think what happens with a lot of players is that they take for granted the opportunities that are before them. What the opportunities before have done is they have actually made him be that much more committed to being a better professional. That’s only going to run through his consistency in his play but also in his consistency in opportunities with the national team and eventually becoming a mainstay within the team.
On what has led to Zusi’s success:
I guess when you look at him to see how he’s come along and what’s happened to him, I think it’s a combination of things. It’s perseverance, for sure. It can be very frustrating, it can very disappointing when you’re trying to make it and you’re maybe not getting the opportunities and not having the kind of success you’re hoping to have. Keep working hard, keep getting better — that’s the key. He had those pieces.
On Zusi’s openness to playing different positions:
Versatility is not just within your skill set — it’s within your attitude. A lot of players play different positions, but they don’t find success in doing that because the attitude isn’t there. ‘I’m just a forward, I’m not a midfielder, I’m not a wide guy.’ They talk themselves out of the challenge before they can’t even take the opportunity. For him, he definitely has the skill set to be able to play multiple positions. And more importantly, he has the right attitude. He understands there are different tactical implications in games, and players play those parts. And he understands there are times that he has to do things that are in the benefit of the team.
On Zusi’s development since his first call-up in January:
Since the first time we saw him in a long stretch in the January camp, he improved step by step.
On Zusi’s growing confidence:
He can take the risk to shoot and play something, and we always encourage that with him. It’s really nice to see that coming through.
On Zusi playing at Livestrong Sporting Park against Guatemala:
Now, having the second game in Kansas, he’s the local boy. I think it’s exciting for him to be right there in his home stadium.
On not playing much during his first two MLS seasons:
It wasn’t until my third season that I got the opportunity to make some consistent starts, and I was able to do well with them luckily, and that allowed me to be in the starting lineup and continue to grow and get the experience that I needed and eventually have a shot at the national team as well.
On making his first qualifying start on Sept. 11:
There’s no doubt that was in the minds of all the players and the fans going into that game, and it was just a real honor being able to represent my country on a day like that. Obviously, you had the mixed emotions with it, and to come out victorious on that night, it really ended on a high note.
On playing with onetime Maryland teammate Maurice Edu on the national team:
It’s a lot of fun being back playing with Mo. We had a few years together at Maryland, and for our careers to come back together right now, to play with each other again, it’s a lot of fun. It kind of seems like old times.
On his confidence with the national team:
I think my confidence has increased. That comes with just playing in a couple games. Obviously, your first opportunity to play for your national team, there are going to be some nerves. And I’d be lying to you if I was saying there weren’t.
On playing at Livestrong Sporting Park against Guatemala:
That’s going to be a great experience. First of all, to be playing for your national team, and also to be playing in front of the fans you usually play for on a weekly basis, it makes it all that more special. And there’s no doubt in my mind Livestrong Park is just going to be an awesome atmosphere on Tuesday. It’s going to be set up for a great game, and I think we’ll be able to feed from that energy.