After earning a 1-1 draw at the Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake in the Conference Semifinal first leg, Sporting Kansas City are right where they want to be heading into Sunday's second leg (2 p.m. CT | ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
The draw ensured that a win at home, where they are 10-2-5 in 2018, would send them through to the Conference Championship. Even a scoreless draw would do the trick.
"We're definitely a confident group right now and I think we have been the whole season, our play has shown that," Graham Zusi told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. "Our ability to dominate possession and dominate play throughout the entire season. We have a humble confidence about us, we're definitely not overconfident, but we know we're a group that can get the job done."
They conceded first in the Leg 1, a wonderful goal by Albert Rusnak. RSL had been dominating possession and looked more likely to get a second than SKC to get an equalizer. But head coach Peter Vermes summoned Diego Rubio from the bench and, within 60 seconds, Rubio fired past Nick Rimando to level the game, and with it, a valuable away goal.
"That was really big for us," Zusi said. "I thought we actually had a few really good chances to get on the board, especially in the first half. To go down a goal can often times be a gut punch, but we found what it takes and dug deep in us to get that equalizer, to go back home with the series in our hands."
The match was atypical for SKC. They held just 33 percent of possession, their lowest since 2015.
"That game was a little uncharacteristic from us, for sure, and we know that," Zusi said. "Playoffs bring something different than the regular season, sometimes you find yourself in a game like that. With us being a little out of sorts for what we do typically, we did a great job of adjusting to what the game was bringing. Really not giving up many chances."
Playoff soccer does indeed bring something different, but one constant all season has been Zusi at right back. In fact, he didn't miss a single regular season minute, one of just four outfield players to accomplish the feat. He was easy the oldest of the quartet.
Zusi is quick to point to the club's new training facility which opened before the season.
"I feel good, I don't think that happens without the body feeling good throughout the year," Zusi said. "I'm really happy with the way my body has held up this year, I think the new facility has quite a bit to do with that. I've really taken advantage of all the things we have in terms of recovery and I think it's made a big difference."
That ever-presence, with consistent excellence in a strong defensive unit, meant Zusi was around the conversation for the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year award. Red Bulls' defender Aaron Long ended up deservedly winning, but Zusi didn't even finish in the top five.
Not that he would have known.
"It's something that I don't really look into," Zusi said. "I'm really not an individual awards kind of guy, I'd much prefer hoisting a trophy at the end of the year. All my focus is towards. I didn't see the ballot, I don't know, I just don't really pay attention to that stuff much at all."
Despite being in the starting XI every week, Zusi was still playing on an expiring contract. He had no worries about his future before putting pen to paper on an extension in September. He hasn't felt a difference in mentality because he was never concerned.
"To be completely honest, nothing has really changed in my eyes," Zusi. "I don't know-- I think so little about those kinds of things while playing. ... I guess I just had confidence that something would get done. I always wanted to be in Kansas City and I would have been a free agent, but I really didn't have any ambition of going through that process because I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be here in Kansas City."
During his time with the club, Zusi has been a part of some great teams. He won MLS Cup in 2013 as well as three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups. But 2018 has felt different. Is it the best SKC side he's been on?
"Yeah, I think it is, maybe by a good margin as well," Zusi said. "You look at the number of people that have contributed, not just a little here and there, but constantly. We've had so many different lineups and haven't skipped a beat."