January Camp has long been a proving ground for players trying to break into the U.S. Men’s National Team. It can also be a place for a player to familiarize themselves with a new position.
Graham Zusi already accomplished the first task back in 2012, and set out to achieve the second by working hard during the last month to develop as a right back under new MNT head coach Bruce Arena. Though he played in the position twice last season for Sporting Kansas City, the 30-year-old got his first experience there on the international level in Sunday’s shutout against Serbia.
“I thought it went pretty well,” Zusi told ussoccer.com about his initial runout at right back. “First and foremost we got the clean sheet. I thought for the most part the back line was pretty organized and didn’t give away too many clear cut chances. For the first game of the year and a little bit of a new position and new group, I thought it was pretty good.”
Allowing just two shots on goal, Arena agreed with Zusi’s assessment following Sunday’s match, with a few members of the coaching staff saying the converted right back had turned in a Man of the Match performance.
"I think our back line played well," the MNT head coach said post-game. "The Zusi experiment at right back was productive today. He played really well."
A player whose natural instinct is to move forward, the converted defender said he focused on adjusting to the nuances of his new position during the match.
“One of my main objectives going into this game was to be locked in mentally as a right back and as the last line of defense, so maybe that was a little bit different for me. Like I said, I think I was able to do that and keep the zero in the back.”
As he continues to grow in his role on the back line, one area he knows he can improve on in Friday’s friendly against Jamaica is doing what comes most natural to him as the MNT looks to close January Camp with a victory.
“It’s important to make sure we win [against Jamaica],” he said. “I think we started off on a pretty good note, but we have to build on that performance, no question about it. I think we can be a little bit sharper in the final third – not just the attackers, but everyone. I had a couple opportunities going forward this past game that I didn’t really take advantage of. Everybody I think needs to be a bit more sharp and clinical going forward.”