Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One on One with Graham Zusi

Graham Zusi has received quite a bit of attention recently. He was just named MLS Player of the Week and has been touted as the next potential national team call up. I spoke to him recently as was impressed by how humble and realistic he is about himself and his situation. Graham shared with us his thoughts on Sporting KC, his future and how he spends his free time. Read on to find out.

MLS Reserves: To start off, how bout a quick recap in your own words of your career leading into the professional game.

Graham Zusi: “I played high school and club soccer. I also participated in ODP [Olympic Develomental Program] and was able to get to the region team for that. That’s where I was able to get the exposure to make it in college. That’s how I was recruited by Maryland University. I think that’s where I improved my game quite a bit…. They do a good job of creating a professional atmosphere at that school. They provide you the best facilities in the country and practice was always very professional.

I think the amount of professional players we have in the league that come from Maryland is really a testament to that. I cant credit enough the amount of help that gave me.

Once I got drafted to the league…Kansas City was, I’m not going to lie, a city that I didn’t know a lot about haha. Looking at a map, I knew all these cities except Kansas City and of course that’s where I was drafted to. But it’s been great here.”

MLS Reserves: And how was it coming into Kansas City?

Zusi: “The first couple years I was developing still. A few of the older guys, the veterans really took us under their wing. Jimmy Conrad, Josh Wolff, Davy Arnoud, Jack Jewsbury… they were really good about helping us learn the ropes. It just made it that much easier to adjust to the game.”

MLS Reserves: You came in the first few years and saw some appearances, but this year you’ve become a staple for the team. What would you attribute that success this year to?

Zusi: “I’d say the main thing is the confidence I’ve gained this year. That comes from playing. My first couple years I was mainly used off the bench and at that point you don’t have a ton of freedom. You’re either trying to push for a result or hold a win. There’s not as much freedom as when you start a game and that’s what I’ve been able to have this year. Being a consistent starter now has just let me get into the flow of the game; that lets me put my stamp on the game going forward, scoring goals. Those building blocks are letting me play at an all time high.”

MLS Reserves: You’ve heard people talking about your long distance shots before, do you practice those?

Zusi: “No, not really. The purpose of those shots is to make the opposing team respect that. Once they do, they’ll step out and not allow you to do that. Once they step up, it opens up space to pass to our players in behind them. If they keep going in though I wont be upset about that.”

MLS Reserves: Can you talk about the transition from the Wizards to Sporting?

Zusi: “The whole rebranding from the Wizards to Sporting KC… it did numbers for the team. To start off the stadium is just incredible. It’s by far the most incredible addition and the best in the league today. It’s provided excitement to the whole city. We’ve been getting consistently around 18,000 a game and it’s amazing.”

MLS Reserves: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player? And with that, where are you looking to go in the future?

Zusi: “My favorite spot on the field is in the middle of the pitch. I like to get as many touches on the ball as I can; be the link between the defenders and the attacking players. I think I do a decent job at turning with the ball and finding our forwards who are making runs. I really like trying to set things up.

As far as things I’d like to improve on… I’ve found myself to be a holding defensive player and I’d like to increase my ability in being a defender. I need to become more physical. MLS is one of the most physical leagues in the world. It compares to the EPL in terms of physicality. So I think I should improve that…haha and my aerial game.”

MLS Reserves: With Jurgen Klinsman coming into the national team, a lot of people, editors, reporters, etc. are prospecting you to be on the national team. Is that something you’ve thought about? Been approached about? Is that in your mind at all?

Zusi: “No, I haven’t been approached about it at all. As far as I’m concerned, I really don’t like thinking about it much because I think it provides a distraction. Obviously, it’s something you dream of as a kid, to play with the national team. The way I look at it is: if the opportunity comes then it comes. The best I can do now is continue to play the way I am and hope for the best. It’s just not something I like thinking about.”

MLS Reserves: With Sporting KC having a number of home games left and you guys banging at the door of the playoffs, what are guys hearing in the locker room? What are you doing to make sure you guys do get into the playoffs and make a run?

Zusi: “You know, I was just talking to a teammate today…what I think is great about this team is that we’ve climbed into the second spot in the East and it looks like we might make the playoffs, but you don’t hear that. We don’t hear that in the locker room. There’s no sense of satisfaction at all right now. I think that’s a good thing to have. We still feel like we’re the underdog and that makes us that much more dangerous.”

MLS Reserves: I tweeted out that we’d be interviewing and I had two fan questions I want to run by you.

Zusi: “Haha, sure.”

MLS Reserves: First, what does Graham Zusi do in his off time? I guess, what do you enjoy off the field?

Zusi: “I’m a huge outdoors nut! I love hiking, anything outdoors, camping, snowboard… I also like just relaxing and reading a good book on the hammock. I think as long as I’m outdoors I’m happy. This past offseason my brother and I went to Wyoming and just got lost in some canyons and lived out of a tent. It was an awesome experience and I love doing that kind of stuff!”

MLS Reserves: This next fan question I had to laugh at. It was great. They want to know if there is ever going to be a ‘Zeus, God of Thunder Zusi celebration for goalscoring?’

Zusi: “Haha! Oh gosh, I think any of my teammates could tell you I’m the worst celebrater in the league. I have no idea what to do! I am probably so shocked that I scored in the first place that I look like a schoolgirl. Haha, when I do score the first thing I think about is celebrating with my teammates. I don’t think about what celebration I’m going to do. Haha hopefully more people will give me some ideas!”

MLS Reserves: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Think about those goal celebrations!

Zusi: “Haha, alright I’ll think about it for sure.”

Well after garnering MLS Player of the Week awards, game winning goals and becoming a sustained starter for Sporting KC, Graham Zusi remains true to his roots. A humble and fun approach to his game, while keeping a love for nature. Sporting fans are getting to know a star in the making with Zusi. Keep an eye on this one folks, great things are coming.

Other Sporting KC articles: One on One with Mike Harrington

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