Four weeks after winning the 2013 MLS Cup championship, Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi boarded a plane for Carson, Calif., where he joined the United States men's national team for its annual January camp. The call-up supplied Zusi with a short-lived offseason — in other words, just the way he preferred it.
A year later, though, after his club's early exit from the 2014 MLS playoffs, the offseason has centered around an entirely different theme.
A lingering foot injury has prevented Zusi from amping up his usual fitness and strength conditioning this offseason, and it cost him a chance to join the national team camp this month with teammate Matt Besler.
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But after two-plus months of limited running, Zusi says he is optimistic about his health as Sporting KC opens its training camp Monday in Tucson, Ariz.
“I think we'll test it out the first week of camp, and we're pretty optimistic that it's going to react well to some of the testing,” Zusi said. “The second week down there, I'll be with the group, fully (participating) with the team.”
Zusi suffered the foot injury — officially labeled a stress reaction — at the conclusion of last season, but he opted to play through it while Sporting KC jockeyed for a better playoff position. “There was no way it was going to keep me out, no matter how much pain it was,” he said.
During the offseason, he was told he could injure the foot further — possibly resulting in a stress fracture — if he didn't give it time to heal. As a result, the offseason regimen has included almost strictly bike exercises to stay in shape.
Along those lines, in the weeks leading up to U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann announcing his January camp roster, the coach and Zusi decided it would be best if he took the month off.
“We didn't want to push it and have a major setback that could affect the season or even the whole year,” Zusi said. “It's always been tough on the outside looking in when there's national team stuff going on. But I think in the long run, it's going to be the right decision.”
Myers, Opara update
After the 2014 season was marred by injuries — most specifically on the back line — Sporting KC hopes to welcome the return of two key defenders this season.
Chance Myers (Achilles) and Ike Opara (ankle) suffered season-ending injuries in the first half of last season, but they will join the team for training camp Monday. Coach Peter Vermes said he will be cautious with both players, who ideally would return to the lineup as starters for 2015.
“My objective with Chance hasn't changed,” Vermes said. “It's going to be bringing him along slowly, and slowly is going to be based on how he feels. I will not rush him one day sooner.”
Regarding Opara, Vermes added, “I think he's in a great position to start off with us, but I have to be smart with a few guys in the way that I bring them back.”
The club enters training camp with nine new players signed to the roster — part of an offseason roster overhaul after its disappointing finish down the stretch of the 2014 season.
Vermes said those additions will offer him the opportunity to implement a new formation that “I have been wanting to do for quite some time, but I don't think we've had the personnel to do before. I won't talk about what that is, but it will give us some looks of what we might be able to do here in the future.”