Mar 26, 2013; Mexico City, Mexico; United States players pose before a World Cup qualifying match against Mexico at Estadio Azteca. Front row (from left): Graham Zusi (19) , DaMarcus Beasley (7) , Herculez Gomez (9) , Jozy Altidore (17). Back row: Clint Dempsey (8) , Omar Gonzalez (3) , Maurice Edu (6) , Matt Besler (14) , Geoff Cameron (20) , Brad Guznan (1) and Michael Bradley (4). Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
This past Sunday, the MLS announced ten of the starting eleven for their July 31st All-Star game against the Italian club AS Roma. The starting eleven will feature two former Maryland Terrapins players who have won National Championships with the team prior to their professional careers. Omar Gonzalez is a staple of the All-Star Starting Eleven, and Zusi will be making his second straight start for the MLS All Stars.
Zusi is a two-time National Champion, and was named the 2008 College Cup’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player. He was selected 23rd overall in the 2nd round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, but has since made teams regret passing on him. His career at Kansas City started slowly, with Zusi starting nine games and appearing in 32 games over his first two seasons.
In 2011, Zusi made major strides towards securing a future with Kansas City. He finished the season with a team high seven assist, and was named MLS Player of the Month in June. He started 25 games and appeared in 32, and became a vital part of Kansas City’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals, culminating with him winning the 2011 Breakout Player of the Year award.
The streak of good play continued for Zusi in 2012. He finished with a league high 15 assist, and notched 5 goals as well, as he played in all 32 games and started all but one of them. Zusi made his first All-Star appearance in 2012, along with being named a MLS Best XI and an MVP Finalist. His great play in the MLS also received the attention of the US National Team, who called up Zusi in January 2012 in preparation for two matches against Venezuela and Panama. Zusi started both of these matches, and scored his first international goal in the game against Panama.
Graham will be playing in front of his home fans at Sporting Park on July 31. His fans will be hoping to see him score a goal as amazing as the one he scored on Sunday in Chicago:
Omar Gonzalez, on the other hand, has been a staple of the LA Galaxy back line since day one. Gonzalez has only missed one start and that came last season as he was recovering from a torn ACL. The third overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, Gonzalez has been making waves in the MLS from the get go. He was named 2009 Rookie of the Year after starting all 30 games, and Gonzalez was a major part of the Galaxy turn around from last place in 2008 to 2009 MLS Cup runner up.
In 2010 and 2011, Gonzalez anchored the MLS’ best defense. In both seasons, Los Angeles allowed 28 goals in 34 matches. The 2010 season ended early for the Galaxy as they fell to FC Dallas in the Western Conference Finals. In 2011 Gonzalez was joined by a former Maryland teammate, A.J. DeLaGarza, who helped Omar lead the team to the 2011 MLS Cup Championship. Omar was named to the MLS Best XI and won Defender of the Year in 2011.
Like Zusi, Gonzalez has been making a name for himself in International play. Following a loan to Germany to play for FC Nuremberg, Gonzalez suffered a torn ACL. He returned to the United States for surgery, and later played in 14 games for Galaxy. In 2010 he was first called up before a friendly against Brazil. National team coach Jurgen Klinsmann called up Omar permanently on January 2013 for the United States World Cup Qualifying matches. By doing so, he has Omar tied to the United States team, which ended speculation of him playing for Mexican National Team.
MLS fans will be keeping an eye on Gonzalez in the box. His size and athleticism have helped him score some critical goals, like this equalizer in the 2011 MLS Cup.
Maryland soccer has reached a national level under coach Sasho Cirovski. Having two players playing at an elite level in the MLS is further strengthen this. Gonzalez has reached the level of one of the league’s best defensive players. Zusi is on his way to becoming one of the leagues best attacking midfielders. Both have found themselves in great situations with teams that believe in them and with support from strong fan bases. With the MLS All Star game in Kansas City this year, Zusi’s support will be in full display.