KeyBank Match-up of the Match: Jack Jewsbury vs. Graham Zusi

Streaking Zusi against stalwart Jewsbury

MUOTM, Graham Zusi, 7.2.11

Photo Credit: 
(Getty Images)

On any soccer field, in any corner of the world, the central midfield is perhaps the most bitterly contested piece of real estate. If you can control the central midfield, then you can control the game. The bruising mastery of Zinedine Zidane’s is one of the more memorable examples of a player who could single handedly exert his will on a match by simply by taking over the central midfield.

With the Timbers, the central midfield has been the domain of a player that spent eight years with Portland’s Saturday opponent in Kansas City—Jack Jewsbury. Relegated to the bench in 2010 and used as an occasional igniting presence off the bench, he was almost forgotten by the team as they hit the offseason.

Fast forward to 2011 and his Portland story is well known. Traded towards the end of preseason, handed the captain’s armband days later, Jewsbury has become one of the most important and consistent members of the Timbers squad while leading the team in goals and assists.

A free kick maestro, tirelessly tracking back in defense, and known for precise blasts from distance, Jewsbury has played himself into a potential 2011 MLS All-Star nod—what would be his first in over 200 MLS career matches—and a perhaps even a potential MVP candidate.

"He’s probably been one of the best signings in MLS, one of the best trades this year,” said Timbers head coach John Spencer. “He’s done ever so well. His set pieces have been excellent. His goals have been excellent. I’d be disappointed if he’s not near the top of the All-Star ballot [voting]."

Saturday's opponent, Sporting KC, has had their ups and downs—much like many other MLS teams this season. Lining up against his ex-teammates, Jewsbury will certainly see some familiar faces. Their captain, midfielder Dave Arnaud—an old friend of Jewsbury—is out with a sports hernia. However, another young midfielder has been on the rise for them winning the most recent North American Soccer Reporters Player of the Month for June.

And it is that midfielder who brings us to Robbie Earle’s KeyBank Match-up of the Match:
 

Robbie Earle's
KeyBank Match-up of the Match
Jeremy Hall vs. Graham Zusi
 


Graham Zusi spent much of the previous two seasons as an occasionally used midfielder in head coach Peter Vermes’ system. In the past month, however, the midfielder has two goals and three game-winning assists in his last three MLS matches not to mention another assist in Sporting’s 3-0 victory in the U.S. Open Cup third round on Tuesday. Zusi’s three game-winning assists is second-most in MLS this season and his three-game run with assists in the longest active streak in MLS and second-longest of 2011.

Though lineup sheets may have show Zusi sitting on the right in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-2-1—depending on how you see it—his Opta heat map stats via MLSsoccer.com’s Chalkboard feature tell a whole different story. He leans towards the right, but doesn't stay there often galavanting throughout the midfield crisscrossing the central midfield creating threats everywhere he goes.

It is in that intersection in the middle that Jewsbury will have to establish his own presence to help neutralize the streaking Zusi. Recent slumps aside, JELD-WEN Field remains a daunting environment to play in for any visiting side. Combine that with Jewsbury’s knowledge of ex-teammates can only help his case. Should Jewbury be able to exert his will over the game and conduct the flow of the game, it should go a long way to helping the Timbers dig out a win.