By FRANCO PANIZO
COLUMBUS, Ohio – That Graham Zusi started in the U.S. men's national team's 1-0 win over Jamaica on Tuesday was a surprise to most. That Zusi was able to leave such a mark in the much-needed win was an even bigger eye opener.
That is, to most except U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Klinsmann opted to start the internationally-inexperienced midfielder in a match the Americans needed three points from and Zusi rewarded the coach's faith in him by putting together his most impressive performance in a U.S. jersey to date. Zusi played as a right midfielder in a 4-1-3-2 formation and he was one of the key figures in the attack for the U.S., delivering the type of attacking output that Klinsmann has been seeking from the 26-year-old Zusi ever since handing him his first cap this past January.
"We developed him over the last eight, nine months," Klinsmann said after the game. "He has certain strengths that we needed tonight. We needed players that shoot from long range and take people on, and he's able to do that."
Zusi came out of the gates flying and was a constant threat for an American team spurred on by the rocking sold-out crowd at Columbus Crew Stadium. He combined well with Steve Cherundolo down the right flank early and often and the Sporting Kansas City midfielder could have scored or assisted on a number of occasions if not for some great goalkeeping and unfortunate luck.
"The systems (for Sporting KC and the U.S.) are fairly similar and that helps me quite a bit," said Zusi. "You saw on my side I was tucking in quite a bit, letting Stevie overlap as much as possible and it was working for us and we continued to do so as long as it worked."
Zusi smacked a shot off the crossbar in the opening minutes and that was a sign of things to come. He was a menace to Jamaica's back line with his quick combination passes and vision, and on one instance he smartly dummied a pass and let it roll in between his legs to Cherundolo near the sideline.
That creativity and confidence was not only a result of Zusi's continued adaptation to the international game, but also thanks to Klinsmann's pre-game instructions.
"He told just to play my game, do the same thing here that I've been doing with my club," said Zusi. "I guess that's why I'm here, because of my club play. It's great advice I think because you don't want to change your game completely because that's what got you here."
Zusi's impact in the game waned a bit in the second half and ultimately he was replaced by Maurice Edu after the Americans had taken the lead. Still, his solid showing in just his fourth appearance should inspire some confidence in U.S. fans who were worried about the lack of depth behind starter Landon Donovan on the right side of the midfield.
For Zusi, though, the performance was just the latest step his development as an international player.
"Every time that I've been called into camp, it's been a little bit of a learning experience for me," said Zusi. "I've taken it each step of the way and tried to not adjust my game, but tweak it here and there because the international level is a little different then club.
"It's pretty fast paced and I think I've been able to get a little bit better every camp and that's all I can ask from myself, is to try and progress every time I'm called in."