In a season that began with the most significant change of his playing career, Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi is headed to the MLS All-Star Game.
Zusi was named Friday as a member of the All-Star Fan XI. The 2017 MLS All-Star Game is scheduled for Aug. 2 at Soldier Field in Chicago. The MLS side will face Spanish superpower Real Madrid.
“It’s a huge honor for me to be voted in by the fans. The fans are who we go out there for week in and week out,” Zusi said. “I just want to say thank you to the MLS fans, especially my SKC faithful.”
It’s the fifth all-star selection for Zusi, tied for third most in club history, but it’s his first as a defender. After playing his entire career as a winger and midfielder, Zusi moved to the back line to open the 2017 season. He has drawn rave reviews there from coaches, starting 15 matches. Sporting KC leads MLS with nine shutouts and a 0.70 goals against average. Still, he’s contributed four assists across all competitions, three of them in MLS play.
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Zusi, 30, is currently with the United States men’s national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Americans open the competition Saturday with a match against Panama.
In the MLS All-Star Game, the league players are set for a difficult matchup with Real Madrid, which has won 33 La Liga championships in Spain. The team is headlined by forward Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world’s best goal scorers.
In the past, the All-Star Game has adopted a competitive tone, with the MLS side wanting to prove its worth against some of Europe’s top clubs. MLS is 7-5 since the league dropped its East vs. West format in favor of bringing in a guest opponent.
“It’s going to be a huge task for us,” Zusi said. “Right now, they’re probably the strongest club in the world. So it will be a fun game obviously — they always are — but a difficult game.
“From past experiences, we’ve always gone into these games trying to win, and we’ve done pretty well against our opponents. We’re looking to put on a show for the fans, and hopefully we can get a good result, as well.”
The full Fan XI also includes Colorado goalkeeper Tim Howard, Atlanta defender Greg Garza, Houston defender DaMarcus Beasley, Chicago midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, Atlanta midfielder Miguel Almirón, Orlando City midfielder Kaka, Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley, New York City FC forward David Villa, Chicago forward Nemanja Nikolić and Toronto FC forward Sebastian Gionvinco.
Ten of 11 members of the Fan XI are determined by a fan vote on the league website. The 11th player is selected through an EA Sports video game contest.
The full 24-player game-day roster will be announced later this month. It will include the Fan XI, 11 players selected by Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunović and two picks from MLS commissioner Don Garber.