Sporting Kansas City locked up another of its young emerging stars Thursday, announcing a four-year contract extension with midfielder Graham Zusi.
One of Sporting KC’s breakout players during last season’s run to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, Zusi’s stock has soared from seldom-used reserve during his first two seasons to part of the U.S. men’s national team player pool in the last eight months.
“I don’t think I would have predicted how things have gone the last year, to be honest, but it’s something you’re always working towards,” Zusi said. “First, you want to make impact with club and then try to get recognized at the highest level, which is the national team.”
It’s all left Zusi’s head spinning a bit — not that he’s complaining.
“It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but the offseason was a nice little break for me to get away from the game a little bit,” Zusi said. “I maintained my fitness, but mentally I was able to check out and get a nice rest. Starting back in January (with the U.S. men’s national team) was a great welcome back. I had a great experience and it gave me a nice jump start into preseason here with Kansas City.”
Now, he’s ready to help Sporting KC pick up where it left off last season, a 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference final.
“It’s good that he continues to build off the form he left last season with,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “He has an air of confidence at the moment, which is what you need as a player to continue to grow.”
Zusi knows the contract extension and national team appearances, including the game-winning goal in a friendly against Panama during his second start, will lead to added expectations within the organization and fan base. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I hope people would expect me to elevate my game,” Zusi said. “That’s something I have taken upon myself. I may have had a decent season last year, but no way can I be satisfied with that. Looking at how hard myself and my teammates worked in the offseason, in no way, shape or form are any of us happy with how the season ended last year.”
Originally drafted in the second round out of Maryland, during the 2009 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, Zusi had a goal and an assist in 32 appearances during his first two professional seasons.
Last year, Zusi enjoyed a breakthrough, starting 25 games in the midfield for Sporting KC and finishing with a team-high seven assists. He added two more assists during the club’s three-game playoff run.
Zusi, who has developed a reputation as one of the most dangerous players from distance on free kicks, also netted five goals in helping Sporting KC rally to win the Eastern Conference regular-season title.
“It only makes sense and he also deserved the raise,” Vermes said. “It was good to get him secured for years to come. We consider him part of the core group of guys we’ll be counting on for years to come.”