Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi shakes off nerves in World Cup debut

06/17/2014 7:06 PM

06/17/2014 8:53 PM

Graham Zusi admitted he might have been just a bit nervous in his World Cup debut Monday night. But the Sporting Kansas City midfielder certainly didn’t show it, setting up the winning goal in the United States’ 2-1 Group G victory over Ghana.

Zusi said he gained energy by soaking in the atmosphere at Arena das Dunas in Natal.

“It was just an incredible feeling,” Zusi said during a news conference Tuesday at Sao Paulo FC. “The support we had from the fans in the stadium along with the fans in every corner of the country. We felt that. It was obviously a U.S. crowd last night and it just makes me want more of it.”

Zusi’s corner kick set up John Brooks’ game-winning goal in the 86th minute, just 9 minutes after Zusi replaced Alejandro Bedoya.

“It was such an exciting game and exciting feeling for me,” Zusi said. “I think those initial nerves just for you to do well are out there and out of your body. But I think you need that as well, a little bit of nerves inside of you is a good thing in the sport.”

Despite earning three points and beating Ghana for the first time in three tries, there still was plenty of room for improvement. While Zusi felt that Clint Dempsey scoring 3230 seconds into the match was a good thing, the Americans took their foot off the pedal for a good portion of the first half.

“For as good as it was to get that early goal … a lot of times it puts them on the back foot,” Zusi said. “We need to play a little bit of a field possession game, or steal some of the field at times. If we try so much to play out of our back, at times we can put the ball on their end and go up and pressure them as well. That we can improve on.”

Zusi felt that the U.S. team should have done a better job of protecting the ball.

“We give it away a bit too easily,” he said. “A lot times that’s what it’s like in the first game in a tournament like this. A lot of times not the greatest game out there, but we did the job and we got the result we needed to move ahead.”

Zusi’s Sporting KC teammate, center back Matt Besler, received some good news when he was allowed to move ahead to play against Portugal in the team’s second group match in Manaus on Sunday. Besler had an MRI Tuesday.

“Matt is no problem, all fine for the next game,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.

Besler was pulled at halftime because of tightness in his right hamstring. Brooks replaced him.

“I think that was more of a precautionary thing to keep him out of the second half,” Zusi said. “I fully expect him to be back with the guys.”

The news for Jozy Altidore did not sound as promising as Klinsmann was hopeful the forward would return sometime in the competition.

“We have guys who can fill in that spot,” Zusi said. “Our depth was tested yesterday and it proved to be very good for us. We have guys who can fill in that spot and do the same job that Jozy can.”

Dempsey, who suffered a broken nose, is also expected to play Sunday. Klinsmann said Dempsey could play with a facemask to protect his nose.

The U.S. team will have an extra day to determine that as it will be given Wednesday off from practice.

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