Before Graham Zusi became one of the faces of the USMNT's great World Cup soccer victory over Ghana, we had marked him out as one to watch in Brazil. Our very own Noah Davis (Noah is down in Brazil right now, so follow him @noahedavis for your USMNT updates) visited the team's training camp in Los Angeles in January and Zusi was already putting in the work that is paying dividends now. The Kansas City midfielder did not make the starting 11 against Ghana, but he certainly made an impact when he came on as a replacement. However, the challenge is even bigger this weekend against Portugal, so we're going to make a case as to why Zusi should make the starting team this Sunday.
The game against Portugal is taking place in Manuas, a venue so humid that it saps the energy from your soul. The heat is so bad there that Italian midfielder Claudio Marchisio reportedly told media after the match versus England last Saturday that he felt as if he was having hallucinations during the game. In our feature on Zusi in our July/August issue, Noah reported that the Kansas City star had a VO2 max of 71ml/kg/min during his physical test, which he put into context by saying that Zusi's body is able to use oxygen as efficiently as a pro rider in the Tour de France.
With Jozy Altidore hamstrung, team USA is going to be under a lot of pressure and will need players in peak condition. Portugal, though humiliated by Germany in the first round, is excellent on the counterattack, so the ability to have the engine to track back for the full 90 will be critical. Zusi, who came on as substitute, will not be as tired as the the guys who started, which could be a significant factor in team selection should Klinsmann opt to play an extra midfielder in the absence of his number one striker. Zusi also, by his own admission, has one of the best engines on the roster. “I take great pride in being one of the fittest guys on the team," he says. "When you can take that factor out of the game and you don’t have to worry about it, then you can worry about other things on the field—the soccer aspect of the game.” Which brings us to the next reason…