Zusi performance vs. Jamaica a sign of progress for USMNT newcomer

Graham Zusi (Reuters)


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."

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51 Responses to Zusi performance vs. Jamaica a sign of progress for USMNT newcomer

  1. Mig22 says:

    Nice piece. He was really useful and looked every bit as good as he does with KC (I admit I’ve only seen three KC games this year).

    He offers another attacking option which we clearly need.

    By the way, SBI/Franco, the US lined up in more of a 4-1-3-2. Cheers!

  2. SweetBalls says:

    Really stood out to me in this game, he was unlucky not to score. He and Cherundolo worked well together. Cheers Zusi!

  3. James says:

    I hate to be the one to always bring up the negative in a positive, but doesn’t this highlight the broken system more? He is 26. (Cameron applies here too, he is 27) Yet he is JUST making those strides and is making his mark. And only NOW are we considering him as NT material.
    Where would these players be if they hadn’t wasted years in college? If our youth system was even more focused and quality oriented? If the MLS system wasn’t built towards holding our young talent hostage forever?
    I understand the concept of late bloomers, but a NT shouldn’t be full of them. I look at situations like this and go “Ok, our players are clearly capable of being talented. How much better would we be if our soccer system was more in line with the rest of the world!?”

  4. The Imperative Voice says:

    He definitely had an impact but more centrally IMO.

  5. biff says:

    Yeah, Zusi was good. I have liked him since Camp Cupcake earlier this year.

    Klinsmann: “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.”

    Hmmm. And we didn’t need those “certain strengths” last Friday night in Kingston? I wonder whether Klinsmann would have started Zusi (and Torres) on Tuesday if 1) the U.S. would have tied or won on Friday in Kingston, and 2) if the U.S. fans would not have howled so loudly in protest at Klinsmann’s silly 3 defensive midfielder line-ups. Oh well, at least he finally tried something new and I still like the guy and I love the (elmentary but nonetheless beautiful) tiki-taka we saw in the first-half Tuesday and hopefully Klinsi in the future will abstain from the 3 d-mid system and will start playing players in their club positions, like Danny Williams at d-mid instead of grrrrr riiiiigrrrht-wiiiiinger.

    And, hopefully, Klinsmann will take a look at some fresh faces for attacking midfield, with my top choices for October or latest November being the two Chris’s: Chris Pontius and Chris Rolfe.

  6. Marlon says:

    Relax, look at kosciely and giroud. both late bloomers, now on the national team.

  7. malkin says:

    haters gonna hate

  8. The Imperative Voice says:

    Cameron was an unheralded supplemental pick out of Rhode Island (ironically, I think he has been more productive since college than in it). He had no youth NT career or anything like that to point him out. Kinnear saw him in the combine and liked him. But didn’t even risk a regular pick on him. He started out as a RM sub, flourished, got moved to CB in an emergency situation, stuck there, moved to CM to cover for DeRo and Holden leaving. None of that was planned and bluntly none of it could have been planned for. Pretty accidental.

    The college and combine experience arguably made Cameron. If that didn’t exist he’d have been flushed at 18 because he was not in the YNT pipeline, not in a MLS academy, etc.

    I’d agree that our talent scouting is hit and miss (and I’m particularly concerned about the dearth of backline talent coming up), but at some level that’s reality for everyone worldwide, and I don’t think late bloomers per se prove much of anything about the system.

    I think the problem is that the system is not truly professionalized from U10 up, the academies are no better than club teams like I came from, there is a college gap for most, and I don’t think the MLS teams take the lead in producing their own first teams. To me they cherry pick and use their rules to grab players. The Dynamo barely play their homegrowns. Until that stops, that’s your real development issue.

    I also think that college does an adequate job of producing players, and many of the rejects can use the degree gained in the process. The real problem to me is, again, MLS turns many of their “academicians” over to college to work with for 1-4 years. Only so many 18 year olds are signing deals and moving straight into the league. That’s how most of the rest of the world works.

    But even if that happened, college is still a boon in sports like baseball where many people turn pro at 18. Granted, shorter careers, but sometimes also more mature and technically sound players.

    And do you really believe teams around the world don’t lock in their young players? What do you think all those loans and transfers are about? Even the players they don’t develop well are “assets” they can ship off to Gillingham until they give up or the contract runs out. And if a player was of Cameron’s quality I guarantee you they’d hold them to their contract, just like Fellaini’s going to have lot of luck leaving Everton this soon, Dempsey, etc. People are like willfully naive about how easy Europe lets go. They might release a 30 year old who’s been there forever, or a kid who’s been loaned everywhere and they quit on, but if they had a talent they’d play transfer hardball too.

    And, ironically, if we have players in demand then that kind of undercuts your development complaints, donnit? Ain’t completely broken if people are buying…

  9. Nate Dollars says:

    “I understand the concept of late bloomers, but a NT shouldn’t be full of them.”

    Why not? I mean, I like to get excited over the next kid as well as anybody else, but it’s all about the amount of miles on a players legs, right?

    I’m not sure it’s better to be dependent on 19- to 25-year-olds than on 26- to 32-year-olds, as long as their fitness is comparable.

  10. tom says:

    If I’m not mistaken Klinsmann had previously played Zusi more centrally, more defensively. He’s better wider as an attacker or distributor.

  11. Seriously says:

    Speak for yourself Franco. I have been a fan of Zusi for some time. I have been calling for him over Beckerman for months on the site. He is a creative presence with vision and skill. Very good player with a high motor. He has taken over from Stu Holden as my favorite MLS player.

  12. Seriously says:

    I dunno about Rolfe. We already have our 30 year old forward in Gomez and he is way better than Rolfe. If Rolfe were younger and had room to grow I would agree, but he is what he is.

    Pontius deserves a call for sure. Young, versatile, skilled. Thats the kind of player that needs to get a shot.

  13. JJ says:

    Zusi is everything that we want Torres to be.

  14. RLW2020 says:

    no thats a legitimate problem we have with the US Soccer system because of that we will have guys like Zusi and Cameron that if they reach their full potential at 27-31 and likely only play into 1 World Cup cycle. Then again I would say the whole team is made of late bloomers; Bradley, Dempsey, Howard, Johnson, Donovan, Churundolo etc. all have been playing top quality football at a young age to now.

  15. Adrian says:

    Why would you call for Zusi over Beckerman? That’s like calling for Gomez over Bocanegra–not remotely the same positions.

    You should have been calling for Zusi over Bradley or Donovan.

  16. Adrian says:

    Except he isn’t.

    Zusi was supposed to be aggressive and get involved in the final third. Torres is supposed to sit in the middle of the pitch and distribute quickly and accurately to players like Zusi.

  17. RLW2020 says:

    people look at Torres and think Zusi’s game. If you actually watch who Torres is he is more similar to Bradley, Williams or Beckerman

  18. Seriously says:

    You must not watch much of the USMNT. Beckerman is a d-mid correct? We have been sticking d-mids all over the place at the expense of creative players. Drop a d-mid like beckerman and add in Zusi instead and you get tuesday as opposed to friday.

    Calling for a midfielder over another midfielder is hardly calling for a forward over a defender. It merely relies on a slight difference in on the field philosophy.

    Also Bradley plays the same role as beckerman so by your horrible logic, your own suggestion fails. Donovan, Bradley and Zusi all have spot in the MNT midfield. Beckerman? Not so much.

    Thanks for playing.

  19. Vic says:

    True. Bundesliga teams spend an average of 5-6 million on youth development. Twice the salary of an average MLS team. Unfortunately MLS doesn’t produce the type of revenue to match top European leagues. However, we are making strides.

  20. marden08 says:

    Players plateau at different ages and grow or flatten out over time. That is why the performance at the under 23 level is not a guaranteed predictor of success at the national level. Some fade and some grow.I think that Zusi has a good chance to grow and be in the top 15 or 16 players. I like him a lot.
    There is always a lot of “is” and “mes” in coach’s talks. I like him and believe that we are moving forward but clearly humility is not one of his strengths.

  21. Adrian says:

    I feel like this site would be SO much better served by people understanding nuanced tactics and player roles.

    People hate on Beckerman all the time for not being Bradley–which is like hating your cat for not being a dog. Beckerman, as Klinsmann has said, is supposed to sit deep and destroy and quickly get the ball out. He is one of the most accurate passers on the team, rarely gives the ball away and does what is asked of him.

    Torres, as Klinsmann has said, is supposed to sit deep and distribute quickly–quick passes and switching the points of attack. He isn’t supposed to move into the final third and be fancy with the ball. His ability to perform is dependent on the players around him doing as they should–moving off the ball and staying active by positioning themselves well.

    These players look much better when surrounded by players who do as they are supposed to. Bradley is a box-to-box creative midfielder and plays his part well. When he plays with Beckerman and Donovan it’s so much smoother because they play their roles well and allow him to do as he is supposed to.

    If you’re looking for these players to do something other than what Klinsmann has asked of them to do you’re going to think they have failed when they haven’t.

    Some players success will always be dependent on the skill of the other players around them–especially midfielders–who rely on both the defense AND offense to play into the system.

    When you have defenders long balling instead of looking to pass and forwards not making runs or coming back to connect your midfielders will look bad regardless of how they actually play.

  22. Adrian says:

    There are many different types of midfielders.

    And Bradley does not play even remotely the same role as Beckerman. To even suggest such a stupid thing makes me wonder why I’m even responding. I mean seriously, Bradley and Beckerman do not play even close to the same role. Seriously, don’t respond to another of my comments.

  23. jlm says:

    these are awesome questions that you bring up. I believe that, on the whole, the answers support MLS and the development structure that we have in place now (including the college system). We are not Europe – we don’t have the history and the game does not have a stranglehold on popular culture like it does there. So, how should we be expected to get in line with Europe in terms of developing players when we are at this disadvantage. The truth is, we have to be happy developing players however we can.

    We should be excited that Zusi has developed to this level period — not question why he did not develop sooner. His development and the development of others like him will make it possible for it to start younger and younger, but for now, we just need to appreciate that they ARE developing here in OUR system. We can do it. It is important that we figure out how to do it in our way because that is the only way it will work here. If we keep working, keep tweaking, keep promoting, etc the game will continue to grow and improve here.

  24. Sabella says:

    He had a great game and provided the midfield exactly what was lacking in the first Jamaica game: technical ability, creativity, possession.

  25. The Imperative Voice says:

    I also think we need to replace the reserve league with either full second teams playing full seasons alongside their brethren, or just ship off everyone after player 25 or so to the minors and have the minors either owned by MLS or loosely affiliated team by team. That way the reserves are actually playing.

    Failing that, I used to feel like our what was it, Project 40? team of GenAdi-type players used to be a good way to spotlight talent and get it PT. Make a permanent minor league team of the best unused prospects. Hire a good coach. Teams turn their players over for a year, and if the coach does a good job they get back something improved.

    I just think the current MLS reserve system is a half-baked, CBA-throw-in that employs more players for a limited schedule but doesn’t serve the greater purpose. Tells me all I need to know when players signed by MLS (and maybe even on loan from foreign teams) have to go on loan to the minors to find PT. In which case, what’s the point to the reserves? They might as well be with San Antonio to start with then…

  26. Kevin says:

    “That is, to most except U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.”

    If Juergan knew all along, why did he not start Zusi in the first game at Jamaica, instead of figuring out that three defensive midfielders is not a good choice?

  27. Charles says:

    “I feel like this site would be SO much better served by people understanding nuanced tactics and player roles.”

    You realize this part of your comment makes you look like a total tool ? You probably didn’t mean to say you understand soccer better than everyone else here, but you did say it.

    Agree with the rest of the post.

  28. Adrian says:

    Yeah, could have worded that better.

  29. chris says:

    No we would be way worse. Without college Cameron and Zusi would not even be playing. What about Bowen, Adu, Ibrahim, Agbossmounde, and the horde of other players that turned pro early and haven’t amassed to anything?

  30. The Imperative Voice says:

    I disagree. Zusi was occasionally doing something nice, but only when he cut inside. However then the overall offense suffers because Zusi and Torres are not wingers who can beat you to the line and hit a cross. I don’t think it’s as bad as playing 3 DMs but it’s still tactically suboptimal to have players occupying the wing spots who are really CAMs.

    I think half the USMNT problem right now is not enough of specialist players playing by themselves in their specific role. We have DMs, but too many. We have players in wing spots who aren’t wings. Etc. And so we squeak by Jamaica — a good version of their team, mind you — 1-0.

    Personally, I’d like to see us play a 442 with role players where they belong and I don’t see how that’s out of whack with playing flowing ball, either.

  31. Sabella says:

    The reason people are down on Beckerman is that he hasn’t cut it at the national team level. He has had ample time to prove himself and he has played in plenty of games surrounded by some of the bigger name USMNT guys. if you are going to occupy the middle of the pitch, whether it be offensively or defensively, it’s your job to make those around you better, not the other way around. He is too slow for the international game, gets knocked off the ball quite a bit. He is not an impact player.

    He does have sweet hair, though.

  32. The Imperative Voice says:

    Actually, if you’ve been reading the “2 DM” or “3 DM” complaints, just because Zusi is nominally a CAM and Beckerman a DM doesn’t make them apples and oranges, since Klinsi seems to choose between them depending on tactical aggressiveness or determination to play defense. If he plays 3 DMs, that’s at an attacking player’s expense.

    I continue to be amazed that we’re talking 3 DMs without blinking. 2 used to be seen as an overly defensive tactic under Bradley.

  33. TomG says:

    Certainly our guys do get delayed by college in relation to European players. There is a flip side, though, in that our guys have more tread on the tire and can play effectively later in their careers whereas many European players have peaked at 26. Guys like Deuce and McBride continued to get better in their late 20s. We DO have some guys developing in Europe, so there’s a mix. I’m not sure it’s so bad that there are different types of players in our pool that have developed in different ways at different paces. Maybe the older guys add something too? I’m not completely sure about this.

  34. jlm says:

    their roles are definitely “remotely” similar. you could easily sub one for the other without saying that they are the same player.

  35. 2tone says:

    I thought Zusi was very good. What I like about Zusi is that he is alredy thinking one or two steps ahead before receiving the ball, unlike Edu. His dummy on the ball showed how quick he was thinking in regards to the build-up. I think he is very much in the convo as a starter for the next game with Donovan moving over to the left side.

  36. T-moble says:

    MLS next step is the reserve system,Don garber said their focus next year is how to better their Reserves system. I see a lot of talent in MLS, hopfully Nagbe plays for us.

  37. mike says:

    your tag is hate. his response is a valid one. worth considering. nothing wrong with celebrating. and nothing wrong with looking deeper. we need it.

  38. MJC-DC says:

    I think you bring up some valid points. However, the proper question to ask first in my opinion is where is the youth system of today, compared to the 2005 when entered school at UMD? I think we’ve made a lot of progress with the growth of academies and a wider array of young talent abroad. That said we have plenty of room to grow “the net”, If you will, which gives a wide base of youngsters compete at a high level while learning to play soccer with an American flair (for that matter we still need to find a style that embodies this).

    Also, I’ll note I watched Zusi for two years , UMD is my alma mater, and I can say he was a very talented midfielder (strike in 08 semi anyone?). That said he was a bit inconsistent and raw. It is quite possible in my mind that he was a late bloomer.

  39. Waterlewd says:

    Didn’t you get the memo? The 4-4-2 is dead in international football, along with true wingers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see the 4-4-2. Two things though: 1 – We can’t play a 4-4-2 effectively without Landon in the squad. 2 – We should play the 4-4-2 against medium CONCACAF foe like Panama and Guatamala, and turn the 4-4-2 into a 4-2-4 given the outside MFs the freedom to join the attack and come inside.

  40. pancholama says:

    Graham Zusi – the new Sal Zizzo?

  41. beachbum says:

    Torres is not like any of them to me. In the pool he is unique which is why Klinsmann keeps looking for a spot for him, my opinion. He’s good at some things, not as much at other things, seems pretty clear after many observations in the US uni by now. Certain matchups are better than others for him, and thus different roles depending game to game

    and for me, Bradley goes forward better, finishes better, has more bite defensively and has a better engine and stamina. And Williams is a pure destroyer, physical willing and able to mix it up, the opposite kind of player than Torres’ finesse game

  42. TomG says:

    This is a valid criticism imo. I think the reasoning behind it was that Klinsi was taking the conservative route of shooting for a point on the road rather than aggressively seeking to dominate a tough team in their own space. The pitch was also a complete shambles which benefits size and athleticism rather than skilled players, and with the injuries to LD & MB, that makes some sense. IMO, though, I think Klinsi gave Jamaica a little too much credit/undersold his own team’s talent. I understand the strategy, but seeing how dominant USA was in the first half on Tuesday, I think it may have been better to press the issue in Jamaica.

  43. TomG says:

    Torres has not been playing a deep lying role of late. The last few games, he has been either pushed wide or played just under the strikers. If we want to see him deeper, that’s fine, but out wide or pushed up, he’s been shown up. He doesn’t have the proper offensive mentality to play these roles. Zusi created more offensively in his 70 minutes out wide than Torres has in several games in that position. Just look at how well Zusi combined with Dolo while Torres seemed baffled about how to get the ball to Fabian. There is a certain skill set and sensibility to playing well out wide and Torres doesn’t have it. Williams looked so much better pushed back inside, so perhaps it’s time to end the experiment of Torres out wide too.

  44. beachbum says:

    yes you could have worded it better, but revealed is your perspective, so be it

    anyway, one nuance you do not mention is matchups, and how vital they are game to game. I’ve always respected Beckerman, but he was not a good matchup vs. Jamaica, and not because of the other players around him in hoops, (although all of that you said is true game to game, but no excuse if others are not playing…they are not playing so adjust). Jamaica was physically a bad matchup for him but a great matchup for Williams evidently.

    what’s interesting to me is how Coach is shuffling an unsettled lineup. Start Williams as destroyer for first time, Zusi on the right thankfully Dolo back from injury and BAM! the team responds well with all 3! Mess with that engine later in the game with parts that seemed to not fit as well vs. a finally encouraged opponent and…just glad the USMNT held on for the win

    hope that wasn’t too boring for you

  45. TomG says:

    Because their names end in vowels? Totally different career paths. Zizzo looked promising as a 20 year old struggling for PT in Europe, but he flatlined and has never been a star player at any pro level whereas Zusi has been getting better and better to the point where he is one of the best players in MLS. I liked Zizzo as a 20yo, but he never really got much better.

  46. TomG says:

    No, Torres was playing wide left on Tuesday – a mirror to Zusi on the right, but whereas Zusi is much more comfortable out wide combining with Dolo, Torres looked uncomfortable and confused about how to combine with Fabian. He doesn’t use the width on the wing properly. He SHOULD be inside, but he hasn’t been playing there lately for USMNT.

  47. Larry says:

    Maybe the real lesson is that once you set up a system, find players who fit into it (especially if they do it at a high level on their club side) instead of taking the “best” players and having them not fit in positionally, tactically, physically, technically, etc.

    Having said that, high quality multi-positional utility players still have their place.

  48. goyim says:

    +1 re thinking ahead, e.g. the dummy.

  49. Chad says:

    Zusi was extremly impressive, hoping to see more of him & the offensive potential he can bring.

  50. Chad says: