As momentum builds toward Major League Soccer’s 26th season in 2021, Sporting Kansas City players and coaches will look to lay the foundations for another successful campaign when preseason training unfolds this month in Arizona.
With newcomers joining familiar faces for the 2021 preseason presented by Children’s Mercy, SportingKC.com has launched the “Sporting Preseason Spotlight” web series to acquaint supporters with the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards who will help Sporting Kansas City compete for silverware in 2021. To read up on every player and visit the series archive as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/Spotlight.
In 2021, Sporting Kansas City will be home to the longest-tenured active player with one club. That title belongs to none other than Graham Zusi, who has proudly worn a Kansas City uniform since his arrival as an MLS SuperDraft selection out of the University of Maryland.
As one of the faces of the franchise, the 34-year-old Zusi is in the twilight of a storied career that has taken him places few would have thought possible a dozen years ago. Indeed, the 2021 campaign presents Zusi with an opportunity to add a cherry on top of an icing-covered cake in the form of another major trophy with Sporting.
Among the most accomplished players in Sporting history, it’s fair to say that Zusi is at or near the top of the list. The versatile veteran and former U.S. international will enter his 13th MLS campaign with Sporting in 2021, becoming the first player to spend that many seasons with the club. Since joining in 2009, he has won four major championships, racked up a team-record seven MLS All-Star nods, led Sporting to the playoffs on nine occasions, and represented the U.S. at a FIFA World Cup.
Across all competitions, Zusi ranks second on the club's all-time charts in appearances (345) and assists (81) while also racking up 32 goals and 301 starts. The 2013 MLS Cup champion and three-time Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion also won a Concacaf Gold Cup with the U.S. Men's National Team in 2017 and assisted two goals at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. That's not to mention his ceaseless community involvement with The Victory Project, Children's Mercy and countless other programs as one of the club's most active humanitarians.
In his fourth season as Sporting's starting right back, Zusi hardly missed a beat in 2020 prior to suffering a season-ending injury in a home win over Chicago Fire FC on Oct. 7. He started 16 of 17 appearances in all competitions, assisting once and scoring a dramatic game-winner against the Colorado Rapids at the MLS is Back Tournament last summer. Zusi's foot injury required him to undergo season-ending surgery, a successful operation that has required rehab throughout the offseason.
Zusi has been limited in his preseason activities thus far and is on schedule to resume training with teammates by mid-April. That would put him in line to begin competing for playing time by May, at which point Sporting will have played only a few regular season matches. Consequently, Zusi will have plenty to play for in 2021 despite his late start.
Zusi, who has played as a forward, midfielder and defender during his time at Sporting, ranks second in MLS with 589 chances created since the dawn of the Opta era in 2010.
He Said It
“I miss our fans, I miss full stadiums. As a player, the adrenaline is flowing because of the fans and the atmosphere they create. Without them, you almost have to try and create it yourself, and that’s near impossible. That adrenaline rush you get from the fans isn’t there. Creating that energy on your own is difficult to do. I watch games from all over the world in empty stadiums, and it’s just strange. t’s not the same. I don’t think anyone realized how much the atmosphere drove games.”
Zusi during an interview with Sports Radio 810 WHB last month.
Did You Know?
During his rookie season in 2009, Zusi lived with former teammate Matt Besler at Besler's parents' house in Overland Park, Kansas. Five years later, the duo was starting for the U.S. Men's National Team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.