The ball deflected off a defender before it darted to the foot of Graham Zusi inside the penalty area, leaving him to rely on pure instinct as he attempted to fire a shot on target.
He didn’t miss.
In a World Cup qualifying match in 2013, Zusi required only one touch to redirect the ball into the back of the net, the first goal in the U.S. men’s national team’s 2-0 win against Jamaica.
The sequence — from an Oct. 11, 2013 match at Sporting Park — is forever etched in his memory, he says, as perhaps the most unforgettable goal in his time with the national team.
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“I’ll never forget that,” Zusi said. “It was just an incredible moment.”
It’s one he finally has the chance to repeat.
For the first time since that highlight, Zusi will walk into Sporting Park on Monday wearing the U.S. men’s national team jersey, when the Americans face Panama at 8:30 p.m. in the Group A finale of the Gold Cup.
But Zusi’s status for the match is in limbo.
During a newsconference Sunday, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said Zusi departed training Sunday afternoon because of an undisclosed injury that he suffered during the team’s 1-0 win Friday against Haiti.
“He’s in doubt for tomorrow night, which is a bit of a bummer,” Klinsmann said. “We’ll see with him tomorrow morning if it goes away and if he’s all ready to go. If he’s not, it would be a bummer, because it’s his home stadium.”
In any regard, the match Monday won’t have quite the same luster as the previous one in which Zusi scored, with the U.S. having already clinched first place in Group A. But the latest stint with the national team is a significant one for Zusi nonetheless.
After he represented the country in the World Cup last summer, a plethora of injuries prevented Zusi from joining the American team since last October. He spent the offseason rehabbing a stress reaction in his foot, and he missed time with Sporting Kansas City this season while nursing a hamstring injury and dealing with the effects of a concussion.
Zusi, 28, cited a clean bill of health — and what he deemed a return to his typical form — as reasons for his return to the national team. The recent “knock,” as Klinsmann described it, could disrupt that rhythm.
Zusi took part in the initial portion of training Sunday before departing after warm-ups.
Zusi played the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 victory against Haiti on Friday. That marked his 31st career international appearance for the team since his debut in 2012.
“He’s a guy who comes into the national team every time with a good mentality (and) a good attitude,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Anytime he gets called on, he’s ready to play, to compete, to try to make a difference to help us win. We need as many of those types of guys as possible.”