You only need to read the box score to see that Graham Zusi clearly contributed to his team’s 2-1 win Sunday in Chicago – a huge result, this win on the road, for a team that had managed just one lone victory since May.
The goal scoring and the goal arranging have arrived at reliable and valuable rates for more than two years now. But clearly, the U.S. international’s contributions are more than goals and assists. He wouldn’t be a first-choice U.S. international now if it was just about the net out.
For me, his comprehensive skill, hard-wired experience and all-around know-how were all captured in one 20-second sequence in the first half.
On one end, Zusi successfully prevented Chicago’s Jalil Anibaba from successfully getting off a cross. His defensive tracking, assisted by a big engine and devotion to fitness that always sees Zusi testing out among the higher end of the curve, is always dependable. And while his one-one-one defending may not be quite that of something like Chance Myers, it’s more than enough for someone who is generally assigned to the field for his attacking, not his tackling.
A few seconds later, Zusi is on the ball again and moving through the midfield. It’s what he does at that moment that was most impressive: he paused. And then he played a nice, safe pass laterally.
Zusi knew intuitively at that moment that what his team needed was a little possession, a little break from defending. Having fallen behind, 2-0, the home team was increasingly grabbing hold of the game. Zusi correctly adjudged that what his team needed at that moment wasn’t another goal. (Well, obviously any team can always use another goal … so maybe it’s more precise to say his team didn’t need another rush at goal that was far more likely to produce a change of possession than a third goal.)
What his team needed at that moment was possession, a little time on the ball to provide a break from the defending, to make Chicago chase for a little while instead of the other way around.
I know it sounds obvious – but so, so many players would have kept steaming forward, all guts and glory, but not nearly enough thoughtful approach.
By the way, all of this happened along the left, which is the other point to make. Zusi usually patrols areas center or right. But being this versatile is another of the assets that has made him such a fixture for club and country.