As Major League Soccer readies for a return to home markets, all 26 clubs are preparing for unprecedented change during an unpredictable time.
Two games per week for most of the next three months. Charter flights with same-day arrival and departure for home matches. Continued safety measures strictly enforced to maintain the health and safety of players, coaches and staff.
Amidst this transition, one longstanding variable remains unchanged: Graham Zusi serving as an integral piece of Sporting Kansas City as part of the club’s veteran core.
On the cusp of his 34th birthday and well into his 12th professional campaign, the experienced defender has methodically staked his claim as one of the most well-rounded players in MLS.
Zusi, who joined Sporting out of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and has represented no other club during his storied career, was initially deployed as a central midfielder before converting to winger and then to outside back over the course of his Kansas City tenure.
As his on-field identity at the club has evolved from midfield playmaker to dynamic winger to attack-minded right back, Zusi’s quality has been ever-present. His seven MLS All-Star selections last decade were the most in the league—a feat he quietly accomplished as MLS attracted more and more superstars from abroad—and his contributions to four title-winning seasons and eight straight playoff appearances between 2011-2018 were nothing short of significant.
Looking beyond his lengthy list of accolades—he’s a two-time MLS Best XI selection, an MLS Cup champion, a three-time U.S. Open Cup winner and a U.S. MNT World Cup veteran—Zusi has also amassed a unique statistical log that showcases his remarkable versatility.
Since the dawn of the MLS Opta era in 2010, Zusi is the only player with 25 goals, 25 assists, 300 chances created, 300 interceptions, 300 recoveries and 300 duels won in the regular season. The first three totals point to his attacking prowess, while the latter three highlight his defensive work.
If we break Zusi’s career into distinct phases, his laundry list of eye-catching stats becomes even more impressive. Upon becoming a regular starter in 2011—the same year he was named MLS Breakout Player of the Year—Zusi established himself as one of Sporting’s primary goal sources. From 2011-2014, he was the league’s only player to record at least five goals and seven assists across all four seasons. During that stretch, he was also the league’s most prolific chance creator.
From 2012-2017, Zusi was also a U.S. Men’s National Team mainstay who recorded five goals and six assists in 55 appearances—including two assists at the 2014 FIFA World Cup—and won a Concacaf Gold Cup title.
The 2017 campaign marked Zusi’s well-chronicled move to the right back position at both Sporting and the U.S. MNT. In the four seasons that Zusi has served as Sporting’s right back, he has still managed to notch 17 assists and create 150 scoring chances—the most among MLS defenders in both categories. He has also excelled in more traditional defensive duties, ranking third among defenders in recoveries, sixth in duels won and 12th in interceptions since the start of 2017.
As Sporting prepare for a pivotal three-month stretch run—all MLS clubs will play 18 more league games through Decision Day on Nov. 8—it’s likely that Zusi will continue to carry a significant role for Manager Peter Vermes’ side. Despite being the oldest field player on the team, he is one of just two players alongside center back Roberto Puncec to feature in all 450 minutes of the 2020 regular season thus far.
With 284 regular season appearances under his belt—the second-most in team history behind teammate and fellow defender Matt Besler—Zusi also stands a chance of eclipsing 300 MLS matches by the end of the year. Zusi is four matches behind Besler’s 288, with both holding the status as one-club players who began their professional stints in Kansas City together in 2009.
If Besler and Zusi hit 300 this year, they’ll become just the sixth and seventh players in league history to play 300 regular season matches with a single MLS club. The first five to do so were Real Salt Lake duo Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman, D.C. United legend Jaime Moreno, LA Galaxy star Cobi Jones and San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski.
Currently occupying first place in the Western Conference with 12 points and a 4-1-0 record, Sporting will resume their regular season campaign on Aug. 21 at second-place Minnesota United FC. The club released the schedule for its next six league matches through Sept. 13 on Saturday.