For the fifth time this year, Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi will train with the U.S. men’s national team in preparation for two upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the final two games in the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualification.
“It’s absolutely still extremely exciting every time I get the chance,” Zusi said. “I definitely wouldn’t call it second nature yet. With the national team, it could be a different group of guys every time, so it’s a very exciting thing to hear when you name gets called out.”
Zusi, who leads the MLS with 15 assists and also has five goals for the Eastern Conference leaders, made his national team debut in January and also was called into camp in May, August and September. He is one of seven MLS players U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann picked for his 24-man roster.
“Graham is on a very good path,” Klinsmann said. “In every camp, he came in and improved step by step. Now, in the last couple camps, he’s become more confident and he’s realized he can compete with these guys. He’s got some great qualities. He’s got a great shot and technically, he’s very gifted.”
Zusi’s inclusion no longer rates as a surprise, but the exclusion of forwards Jozy Altidore and Chris Wondolowski did raise some eyebrows.
Klinsmann explained that he expects to face some bunkered-in defenses, which will put a premium on winning balls in the air in the box, which prompted him to go with Alan Gordon and Eddie Johnson.
He also was critical of Altidore’s play in recent U.S. matches, citing that as another reason to leave off Altidore despite the fact that he’s tied for first in the Dutch Eredivisie with eight goals this season.
The U.S. will face Antigua Barbuda at 7 p.m. Friday at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua.
The final qualifying match against Guatemala is slated for 6 p.m. Oct. 16 at Livestrong Sporting Park. It will be broadcast live on ESPN2, ESPN3 and the Univision family of networks.
“That certainly adds to the excitement for me,” Zusi said. “For a qualifier to be back in Kansas City in front of some home fans, it’s going to be an awesome atmosphere. Playing in a venue that’s familiar and in front of my club’s fans could make for a very special night.”
Entering the final two qualifiers, the U.S. is tied with Guatemala atop Group A with seven points. Both teams also have the same number of goals and matching goal differential.
Jamaica also sits on seven points, but has a lower goal differential. The top two teams will advance to the next round of qualifying.Injured Espinoza won’t join Honduras
Midfielder Roger Espinoza, who was set to join Honduras for its World Cup qualifiers, will miss the next two to four weeks after spraining his right ankle Sunday in second-half stoppage time during Sporting KC’s 1-1 draw at Columbus.
An MRI and X-rays revealed no break, but Espinoza was officially diagnosed with a right anterior medial ankle sprain.
Espinoza, 25, won’t play for Honduras against Panama on Oct. 12 or Canada on Oct. 16 and also might miss Sporting KC’s final regular season games Oct. 20 at the New York Red Bulls and Oct. 24 versus the Philadelphia Union at Livestrong.