Repetition required: Graham Zusi's path to full-time fullback

Can Graham Zusi be an option for the USMNT at right back? Maybe, but we won't soon get a definitive answer.

Graham Zusi has been prominent in the U.S. men's national team pool since making his international debut under Jurgen Klinsmann in conjunction with the 2012 January camp.

The 30-year-old Sporting Kansas City winger has made 44 international appearances, a little less than half of all U.S. games, since that first call-up, and he started in three games and played in all four at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

When Jurgen left

Zusi's role, primarily as a right-sided flank player, had diminished under Klinsmann following the World Cup. He played in four CONCACAF Gold Cup games, but had no other appearances, in 2015 and primarily played a reserve role at last year's Copa America Centenario. He was a part-timer by the start of the Hexagonal in November, watching the loss to Mexico from the bench and coming on in the second half of the defeat at Costa Rica.

What’s changed under Bruce

Zusi was trotted out at right back a few times last year with Sporting Kansas City, and one of those appearances was against the LA Galaxy. That afforded Arena, who has been successful in converting wide midfielders into outside backs, an early look at Zusi's qualities in the position. As Arena put together the roster for this year's January camp  the coach's first time with the national team since the 2006 World Cup  he penciled Zusi in as a right back.

Zusi started both recent games on the right and looked decent going forward, as anticipated, but showed that he'll need more time and a lot more work to fully grasp the defensive duties, positional aspects and work better with his fellow backliners as a unit. He wasn't exposed too much by Serbia in the draw in San Diego, but Jamaica's speedsters caused him some trouble Friday night in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The next six weeks

Zusi isn't an option at outside back for the next set of qualifiers, and the pace of his progress at right back could depend on how Peter Vermes uses him with Sporting Kansas City. He has the tools to make the switch, but it looks more like a long-term process than anything that's going to pay immediate, or quick, dividends.


The jury is out and might not come in for some time. The transition to the backline can be difficult  the concepts are so different, and getting to the point where it feels natural, where he doesn't have to think about where he needs to be and what he needs to be doing, will only come through repetition and facing more and different situations. Vermes can help here, but his first priority is winning games, so don't hold your breath. Look for Zusi to get another chance internationally at the Gold Cup this summer.

More features from FourFourTwo

Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.