Graham Zusi, one of the newest stars of the United States men's national team, would never be the one to tell you about how well he's been doing as a player.
Don't get me wrong, he'll talk about the team and their effort all day long, but he doesn't seem to like talking about himself. That's one of the many things to like about the 26-year-old native of Orlando, Fla.
Another testament as to how far Zusi has come in his brief career took place at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on Tuesday night as he started in a World Cup qualifier against Guatemala.
His college career at the University of Maryland included two national titles, in 2005 as a freshman and in 2008 as a senior.
In 2008, Zusi scored the only goal in both the College Cup semifinal (against St. John's) and final (versus North Carolina).
MLS teams, however, weren't exactly convinced Zusi could make it to the next level. Sporting Kansas City took a chance on him and selected him with the 23rd overall pick in 2009.
His coach at Maryland, Sasho Cirovski, said Zusi was fortunate to be taken by Kansas City. "He is humble to a fault. He doesn’t have a lot of swagger. He needs to feel comfortable and for people to believe in him. Then he starts to think: ‘It’s okay for me to assert myself,’" Cirovski said, per the Washington Post.
He is definitely asserting himself now. After only starting nine times over his first two years, Zusi has blossomed into a dangerous threat anytime he touches the ball and a fixture in the Sporting KC lineup. His extremely hard shot and his placement on set pieces has seen him rise to the top of the MLS leaderboard when it comes to assists.
People in and around the national team have taken notice. Fellow midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who tangles with Zusi as a member of Real Salt Lake, compares Zusi to a musician. Beckerman said, “He’s the piano player. K.C. has got a lot of guys who carry the piano. Graham is the guy who plays the music.” (via the Washington Post)
National team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann evidently likes the tune Zusi is playing. Zusi made his first appearance for the U.S. during January's Camp Cupcake, scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win against Panama. Zusi has also started the last three World Cup qualifiers for the U.S., giving the American team some width in the midfield.
During the postgame press conference after the Guatemala victory, which I attended, when Klinsmann was asked about Zusi and Eddie switching positions throughout the first half, he said, "I think that Graham Zusi brings an element into this group that is he's technically so gifted.
"He keeps the ball, his passing is accurate. I told him before the game, I mean he was so excited, obviously, today playing in his home stadium, I said to him, 'Keep things simple.'"
A bit later when I asked Zusi what Klinsmann meant when he told him to keep it simple, Zusi said, "Don't try to do to much. When you play simple, your confidence will grow. That's pretty much exactly what I did. I didn't try to get in over my head, tried to keep the ball as much as possible, went forward when I could as well."
If his performance against Guatemala is any indication, Zusi could be a national team fixture for a long time.
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