Graham Zusi hails impact of Academy products as Sporting continues hot streak

Sporting Kansas City defender Graham Zusi considers himself lucky.

At age 34, the longest-tenured active MLS player with a single club is witnessing the next generation of Sporting stars blossom right before his own eyes.

Making his weekly appearance on Sports Radio 810 WHB this morning, Zusi lauded the increased roles that several Sporting Kansas City Academy products have shouldered during a successful run in which Manager Peter Vermes’ men have jumped within two points of first place in the Supporters’ Shield run.

The likes of Gianluca Busio, Felipe Hernandez, Jaylin Lindsey and Daniel Salloi have all led Sporting at various times in recent weeks, a trend that the longtime U.S. national teamer and MLS veteran loves to see.

“These quote, unquote kids are making a huge difference for us right now,” Zusi said. “We could keep talking about Gianluca Busio—I’m all for it—but there are several other young guys who are making an impact. At the midpoint of the season when injuries tend to happen and it’s super hot, you need to use all of your roster. These kids just seem to step up time and time again.

“Felipe Hernandez is just putting in shifts right now. Jaylin Lindsey has done fantastic, as well. These guys are not just fill-ins anymore. They’re legit, they’re winning games for us, and they’re huge for our team and our season. These young kids have what it takes, for sure.”

Zusi was particularly complimentary of Salloi, the 24-year-old winger who has caught fire over the last month as an integral piece of the most prolific attack in Major League Soccer. Salloi ranks third in MLS in goals (seven) and combined goals and assists (10), sparking a Sporting outfit that leads MLS in goals, goals per game, expected goals, chances created and shots per game.

“This year’s transformation from Daniel has just been so fun to watch,” Zusi said. “You saw it early on in preseason from him. It’s hard to deny that it doesn’t start with a strong mentality. Daniel would be the first to admit that last year wasn’t his year, but he came into preseason with a mentality that this year was going to be his year.

“Daniel put the work in and he was confident that doing the little things well on the field would lead to goals. He was defending very well. He was pressing really well. His movement off the ball was excellent. And because he was doing all of those little things, the goals seemed to come. You can just tell that he’s sticking with that mentality. The goals are what’s showing up on the stat sheet and that’s what fans are loving, but there are so many other things on the field that Daniel is doing really, really well. That is just as much of a contributor to our success as his goals are.

“I’m absolutely thrilled that Daniel is having the season he is because it couldn’t happen to a better kid. He’s a great dude off the field and it’s so deserved with the way he carries himself and the kind of team player he is. I can’t say enough about what he’s doing for the team right now and I don’t see him slowing down any time soon.”

Next up for Zusi and second-place Sporting (7-3-2, 23 points) is a mouthwatering trip to the third-place LA Galaxy (7-3-0, 21 points) on the Fourth of July. Sunday’s clash will kick off at 9:30 p.m. CT, pitting Kansas City against one of the greatest strikers in MLS in Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who has bagged a league-best 10 goals in as many games this year.

Zusi has faced Chicharito on numerous occasions when the U.S. Men’s National Team has faced Mexico. Sunday will mark the first time the two square off at the club level.

“I have come across Chicharito several times with the national team and the one thing that you always have to be concerned about with him is his movement in and around the box,” Zusi said. “He is unbelievable at putting himself in great positions to score goals, and this year when he’s gotten his chances, he’s putting them away…His movement in the box is world-class and his link-up play is very good, as well.”

Sunday’s contest will be shown live on Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, and the Bally Sports app as well as Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.