Graham Zusi enjoyed a breakout camp last month with the U.S. men’s national team, which is both a blessing and a curse for Sporting Kansas City.
Zusi, a starting midfielder, enjoyed his finest season as a pro last year, scoring five goals — several on incredible blasts from long distance — and leading Sporting KC with seven assists.
He added two more assists in the playoffs and earned an invite to the national team’s January camp along with Sporting KC forwards Teal Bunbury and C.J. Sapong, the reigning MLS rookie of the year.
Zusi and Bunbury started both international friendlies, a pair of 1-0 wins against Venezuela and Panama, while Sapong came on as a second-half sub in both matches.
Zusi even netted a game-winner, a ninth-minute boomer that had been flicked to his feet by Bunbury.
“It’s definitely something as a young player that you dream about,” Zusi said. “You always think about playing for the national team, and it was a pretty special goal for me, obviously.”
The flip side is that if Sporting KC’s players continue excelling at the international level, the team may be forced to play many of its MLS matches with a depleted roster this year.
“Over the course of the year, because there are so many competitions between the Olympic team and the national team with qualifiers and friendlies, it could be an issue at different times,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “But the biggest issue will be how we’ll deal with the overtraining.”
In some respects, Vermes is well-positioned to deal with a roster in flux. He earned 66 caps with the U.S. men, so he knows the value of the experience for his players and understands the demands it can take.
“I don’t worry about it, maybe because I’ve gone through it as a player as well,” Vermes said. “Really, it’s a benefit for the three guys who just came back. It would be one thing if they weren’t fit, but they are obviously accelerated in their fitness because they have been training for a lot longer than the rest of the guys. The thing that you have to be very careful about is that they don’t get overtrained, which is why I gave them the rest of the week off before we came to Arizona.”
Roger Espinoza, who plays for Honduras, and Kei Kamara, who sees regular duty for Sierra Leone, are good bets to miss time training with their national teams.
Midfielder Peterson Joseph, a native of Haiti, and defender Lawrence Olum, a native of Kenya, might also play for country and flag, while Jon Kempin is likely to miss some time working out with the U.S. under-20 team.
If Daneil Cyrus ever makes it to camp and earns a spot on the roster, he probably will get called away to play for Trinidad & Tobago.
And with monster seasons, Matt Besler or Chance Myers, perhaps even Bobby Convey, might get called into a U.S. camp.
“That is a big reason every year we’re trying to make the roster deeper and deeper, because with guys coming in and going it, it is what it is,” Vermes said. “These are the things that happen when your players develop and get better.”
Bunbury is in a unique spot. If he gets called up for every national team and under-23 national team camp he is eligible for, he might see the field in fewer than 10 games with Sporting KC.
“If that’s the case, it would be bittersweet,” Bunbury said. “Obviously, it’s an honor and a privilege to play for the national team, but Sporting Kansas City is my club. It wouldn’t be ideal and I would be sad, but playing for national team is a big honor.”
And one Vermes would never deny a player, so he’ll simply play whatever hand he’s dealt.
“I don’t think we’re worried about it,” Zusi said. “Last year, we faced so much adversity with people being out and the rough start we had, so we developed a pretty tough mentality as a team. Also, we have so much depth on this team. If somebody comes out, another guy steps in and there isn’t much drop-off. That makes us a force to reckon with and a team that, no matter what happens, will have a chance and will compete.”