USA TODAY Sports
Zusi and Feilhaber are Feilhaber and Zusi. Zuhaber, if you will. They need to be good together, not on their own.
There are a dozen teams in Major League Soccer that would take either one of Graham Zusi or Benny Feilhaber as their top attacking midfield option, without hesitation. Sporting Kansas City are lucky enough to not have to choose between the dynamic duo, but to employ both midfield maestros for the 2013 season. As most teams would give up next to anything to have just one of the two, we must analyze and judge the pair differently than any other player on the roster.
With two players so obviously capable of unlocking a game for the Sporting KC attack and singlehandedly winning the three points on their own - as Zusi did on Saturday in the season opener against Philadelphia Union - the options are endless, the sky is the limit, and so on and so forth for Sporting KC. Zusi was the man of the hour on Saturday, and Feilhaber will no doubt have his days, too.
Where things cross into the grey area between definitive blacks and whites, is here: Sporting KC don't need both players to be 8 out of 10 performers every night, on the same night. In fact, that would be a waste of spectacular achievement anytime between now and the playoffs in November. Both players are good enough to turn games over and win them on their own. They both realize this, and neither player is particularly selfish in nature, so they should realize this.
There are less than a handful of MLS teams that can compete with Sporting KC when one of Zusi and Feilhaber have an 8/10 or 9/10 performance, so it would be overkill for both to light the world on fire on a given night. Sure, it would be great for the team's goal differential, but would accomplish little more than tipping their hand to opponents as to what's to come in the playoffs.
This isn't all to say that both players are identical in their on-field arsenal, or even level of consistency. Over the course of playing 32 games in a season, Feilhaber will be an an unstoppable force roughly eight times, fine enough to help his team out without taking the spotlight about 16 times, and pretty much a ghost the other eight games. The beauty of such a player is that opponents will craft their entire gameplan around nullifying Feilhaber's contributions quite often, which will put Zusi in a position to pick up the slack.
Zusi will have far fewer games than Feilhaber where he is completely neutralized by the opponent, but will also be far and away the best player on the field fewer times over the course of a season. Zusi will earn his plaudits and tick his statistical numbers in a multitude of ways that Feilhaber can't; free kicks and corner kicks being the main one. But also, Zusi will be head coach Peter Vermes' metaphorical queen piece in the field's game of chess, asked to perform in different positions and roles, which will sometimes produce performances like Saturday's.
With the indefinite absence of winger Kei Kamara, extra responsibility will be thrust upon Zusi. That's all well and fine because he can obviously handle it, but make no mistake about it, it's the talent and threat posed by his midfield partner, Feilhaber, that will allow him the freedom and space he so desperately needs to be a match-winner anytime Sporting KC call on him to be.
At the present time, Sporting KC are perfectly balanced with selfish and unselfish players; players looking to control the game and players who will allow the game to come to them; match-winning players and non-match-losing players. They look primed for a truly successful 2013 season, however you define that to be.
Whatever Sporting KC win (or don't win) in 2013, Zuhaber will lead them there.