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Graham Zusi Scores v. Philadelphia Union

During the World Cup, my buddy Tom and I developed an all-abiding (perhaps even creepy) fascination with USMNT striker Graham Zusi, ever since he was subbed in late in the US v. Ghana game and contributed the game winning assist, sending a corner kick in the 85th minute to John Brooks who scored to put the US up 2-1. Had Zusi not sent the assist in that game, we probably would have thought nothing more of him than that he was a guy with a hair bun and a funny name. However, when Zusi dealt that fateful corner kick, 10 minutes after coming off the bench, we were hooked: Zusi fans for life.

Zusi earned a spot on the starting 11 for the rest of the World Cup. He even made another assist in the following game vs. Portugal, which sadly turned into a heart-rending 2-2 draw off an injury-time goal by Portugal. Some said his play in the next two matches (losses against Germany and Belgium) was sub-par; I myself don't remember him doing much after that, but the U.S. team itself didn't produce much in the Germany or Belgium games (one solitary goal) so...in my opinion Zusi more than proved his worth as an international competitor, having assisted two of the USMNT's five tournament goals, one of them a game-winner, straight off the bench.

But back to the ostensible reason for this post...

On Friday night I watched Zusi and his MLS team, Sporting Kansas City, play the Philadelphia Union. The difference in Zusi's play was astounding. Not only did he score a goal but he was opening up space and making crosses all over the place, dominating the field. In other words, and despite the 1-1 draw, Zusi seemed to be a full head above his competition. Which makes complete sense now that he's back in his own pond, where he's a big fish.

At 27 years old, safe to say Zusi is in his prime and that he'll most-likely keep his spot on the USMNT at least until the 2018 World Cup. What can happen in those four intervening years? Well for one thing, Zusi's probably going to keep owning the MLS, but will he gain the kind of skills and soccer intelligence necessary to flourish on the international stage again in 2018 and even lead us past Round 1 of the elimination phase, where we have tread only once?? We'll see.

Meantime...here's hoping he provides a lot more exciting MLS action and becomes one of the desperately needed heroes that will continue to elevate the sport's profile in this country. I hope somewhere out there, there are kids playing pick-up soccer, pretending they're Graham Zusi as they bash another shot on goal...because those are the kids who are going to hoist the U.S.'s first World Cup Championship trophy.




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