The shoe collection expanded with each passing week, until Sporting Kansas City winger Graham Zusi determined he had exhausted all options. By the end of 2015, he had tried more than a dozen variations of cleats, hoping to find one to ease the pain of a stress reaction in his foot. Instead, the injury supplied an obstacle to his productivity, and his scoring totals hit five-year lows.
Only one year later, the injury bug has proven destructive once again.
While battling multiple ailments, Zusi has made just seven appearances since May 21. One of two designated players on the roster, he has sat out 11 of the last 18 matches.
“It’s been frustrating for sure,” Zusi said. “You never like missing games. When you’re out, you feel like you’re letting your team down.
“But I’m focused on (the present). I’m happy to be healthy now and ready for the final push.”
A calf strain — which Zusi suffered after a stint with the United States men’s national team last month — was the culprit of the most recent absence, and it’s followed a pattern this season.
With the bone injury in his foot last year, Zusi was able to play through it, so long as he could tolerate the pain. In fact, he appeared in 11 of the final 12 games.
The muscle injuries, however, offer one option: rest. Zusi has had plenty of unwanted time off this year. With two games left in the regular season, he is guaranteed to have his fewest appearances and minutes played since 2010.
Sporting KC has used a turnstile to replace him on the wing. The projected backup for Zusi — Justin Mapp — has been a free-agency whiff, playing only 43 minutes while battling his own injuries.
“What Graham brings to the game is an incredible work ethic,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “He’s relentless in his pursuit of whatever it is he does. He’s very dynamic, too. That gives us something that’s needed within our team.”
As Sporting KC prepares for its match Sunday at Real Salt Lake, Zusi says he feels fully recovered from the calf injury, which occurred after he played a World Cup qualifying match against St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Zusi felt tightness in his right calf the following day, and when he returned stateside, he had tests on the injury, revealing a strain that sidelined him for a month.
“I don’t really have a good explanation for that one. It’s one of the strangest injuries I’ve ever experienced,” Zusi said. “I got through the game with no issues, and then it just felt tight. I thought it was maybe from travel and dehydration. But the scan said it was an actual injury. I didn’t expect that.”
The absence extended longer than he initially anticipated. As a result, only two games remain to rediscover the on-field impact.
“I feel good. Healthy,” Zusi said. “These last two games of the season are monumental. I’m ready to go.”