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Let’s count the reasons to monitor Graham Zusi this year

Jan 14, 2013, 2:06 PM EDT

Zusi head shot

Are there reasons to closely watch Graham Zusi this year? Absolutely.

They are just falling off the reason tree, in fact, starting with this: it’s a follow-up year to 2012, when the Sporting Kansas City man took his game to another level, internationally and domestically.

Zusi just completed a short training spell with West Ham; he’s now back in the States, joining up with Jurgen Klinsmann’s ongoing U.S. national team January camp outside Los Angeles.

SKC’s playmaker has an interesting role as the presumptive, kinda-sorta replacement for Landon Donovan. No, Zusi is no Donovan – and that’s no knock on the Sporting KC attacker. Donovan is Donovan, and the U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer will be irreplaceable in some ways.

But Donovan’s national team absence, however long that turns out to be, definitely helps open the door for Zusi, who slides up the chart of Klinsmann’s top options for right-sided attacking.

(MORE: Donovan’s January camp absence and what it means)

Zusi also becomes an interesting figure for 2012 based on how Klinsmann might use his technically gifted 26-year-old midfielder.

Yes, the pride of #SKC seems like a top “go-to” for the United States’ World Cup qualifiers and marquee friendlies, like the one apparently being arranged against Germany in June. But is that the wisest use of his time away from Sporting KC in the summer?

Because it is possible that Zusi doesn’t see much time in those. By contrast, he could be front-and-center in the United States’ Gold Cup efforts this summer, when Klinsmann will summon something that looks more like a “B” side.

I’m not so sure at this point; I could go either way. All of that is to be hashed out in the coming weeks, I suppose.

(And we’re not even getting into what Zusi might do in MLS this year, not just now, at least.)

Meanwhile, Zusi had some things to say to Yanks Abroad about 2012, about the national team, about “replacing” Donovan and about his recent time in London. What Zusi said about his training days with West Ham:

It was a great experience overall. It was good to experience the culture over there and see what their training is like. It’s tough with MLS not following the international schedule to stay sharp especially when these World Cup qualifiers are approaching. Obviously there’s a little bit of rust because I haven’t played a game since November. But that wore off and I felt a lot more comfortable as the sessions went on. I thought I did fine.”

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