Graham Zusi is embracing the slash once more for Sporting Kansas City.
The winger/midfielder, just off another stint with the U.S. national team, will be asked to fill both roles at times down the regular-season homestretch and into the playoffs for the Eastern Conference contenders after winger Kei Kamara's transfer to Championship side Middlesbrough.
Zusi did the same thing while Kamara was on loan to the Premier League's Norwich City early this season, though, and said he's comfortable moving back and forth between the front line and the middle third.
“I like both positions,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “Wherever I'm needed, I'll play. I don't really have a preference. As long as I'm on the field, I'm happy.”
When he's up front, though, Sporting's attack looks quite a bit different than it did when the 6-foot-3 Kamara was running at defenders or cutting in from the wing for a header.
“We're very different players,” said Zusi, who has five goals and a team-high six assists this year despite several absences due to injury and international duty. “He 's a big, physically gifted player, and I'm not. He's usually the guy getting on the end of things, and I'm typically the kind of person trying to provide the service as much as possible. It's two very different guys, but the way we play doesn't change much.”
And what the 5-foot-10 Zusi gives up in the air, left winger Soony Saad said, he more than makes up for on the ground.
“He's got great playmaking ability, and he can play-make from there,” Saad said. “I think we just have to feel it out, and it's good we get to work it out the last couple of games of the season instead of just being faced with playing like that when the postseason starts.”
And no matter whether it's Zusi or the taller, more physical C.J. Sapong on the wing, Sporting's buildup philosophy doesn't change.
“I feel like our buildup was never to just cross the ball and look to get in the box,” Saad said. “I think the buildup is to get as many numbers forward, move the ball around in the attacking third, and look for the killer pass.”
While Zusi's versatility has been on display more this season than in any other, manager Peter Vermes said he saw it as early as Zusi's rookie season in 2009.
“I remember when I first took over, there were about 10 games left in the season, and I put him in a game and threw him out wide left,” said Vermes, whose club visits Toronto FC on Saturday. “He did some stuff that I was just like, 'Holy Cow.' I didn't see that, that he could actually do that in that part of the field.
“So it was there,” Vermes went on. “It was just one, was it going to be consistently done, and two, would he have the mindset to be the protagonist on the field? Are you waiting for someone to push you on the field, or are you going to initiate it? And that's what he's become. He's become the guy who goes out and initiates that offensive threat for us.”