Zusi: Complacency and injuries stung Sporting KC

By Paul Kennedy

One of the most concerning injuries for Jurgen Klinsmann's 2014 World Cup group is the foot injury that has kept Graham Zusi out of the January camp, the second straight camp he has had to miss.

Zusi felt the pain in early October, played on through the rest of the Sporting Kansas City season that ended at the end of October, and then sat out the trip to London and Dublin for the USA's matches against Colombia and Ireland in November after the MLS playoffs ended for the defending champions.

He hoped rest would allow to him to return to the national team camp being held in Carson, California, but he's had to sit out again.

"I have a Grade 4 stress reaction, which is right before a stress fracture," he said at the MLS media round table in Manhattan Beach, California, on Tuesday. "It's been two months now, and it's not quite there yet ..."

Asked if he was concerned about the length of the layoff, he did not exactly sound confident in responding, "We're on top of it."

Zusi's frustration was apparent as he discussed the injury. "I'm pretty limited in what I can do," he said. "I can bike. The bike's not going to do it, really."

The injury capped what was a tough second half of the season for Zusi and Sporting Kansas City. It went into the 2014 All-Star break with a 10-6-6 and in contention for the Eastern Conference title, but it went 3-8-1 the rest of the way to drop to fifth place.

"I think we got a little complacent, to be honest," Zusi said. "We started to skid a bit." In the past, Sporting KC always managed to snap out of slumps. But not this time. "I think the bodies were tired by the end," he said.

Sporting Kansas City's season ended quickly in the playoffs when it lost the play-in game at New York, 2-1.

"The injury situation is a big part of that," Zusi said. 'You're throwing players in there, to be honest, who might not have seen the field but had to step up. And to their credit they did very well, but none of the bodies we had out there, including my own, were ready for that kind of commitment."

Zusi's 2014 season also included the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals with Sporting Kansas City in the spring, World Cup preparations and the tournament itself, where he played all four games for the USA.

"I don't think Brazil had a negative effect on my body," he said.

Sporting KC is moving to the Western Conference in 2015. "Our goal is going to win the West," Zusi said. "It's as simple as that."

He doesn't expect Sporting KC to change its approach in the attack-oriented Western Conference, but it will have to be flexible. "We will be able to play several ways," he said.

A big part of the reason for Zusi's confidence is the return of Dom Dwyer for his full MLS season as a starter after he scored 22 goals in 2014.

"I think Dom is going to have a better year this season that he did last year," Zusi said. "We've added some fantastic pieces to support Dom as well. I think he is going to get more chances. He's going to provide more chances as well."

Injuries riddled the SKC backline, so for Zusi to have Ike Opara -- a favorite target for his free kicks -- back is something he is looking forward. Opara was playing so well early in 2014 that Zusi admitted he could have seen the Wake Forest product staying in the starting lineup. "Absolutely no disrespect to [Aurelien] Collin," he added.

Zusi could say that because the big Frenchman is gone, traded to Orlando City. There have already been a number of other changes to the SKC squad with the departure of Lawrence Olum, C.J. Sapong and Claudio Bieler, all key players on the 2013 championship team. But it gets back Roger Espinoza, who left after the 2012 season to play at Wigan in England.

"He goes to be a big factor for us," said Zusi of the Honduran international, "that workhorse of a midfielder who can cover box to box, breaking things up, setting things up, getting on the end of things himself. I think he as excited to be back as we are."
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