The rage among the U.S. national team is German-raised players with American servicemen fathers and American-raised players of Mexican heritage.
Graham Zusi is neither. At 25 years old, the classic late bloomer is from Longwood, Fla., a short distance away from Orlando, where he’s the most notable inclusion on coach Juergen Klinsmann’s roster for three friendlies and the first two matches on the road to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
What makes Zusi standout isn’t his pedigree, although it’s hardly undistinguished. Blessed with skill on the ball and dangerous ability on free kicks, he helped lead Maryland to national titles as a freshman in 2005 and as a senior in 2008. After four years of college, he went a ho-hum 23rd overall in the 2009 MLS draft and made just 13 appearances as a rookie with Sporting Kansas City.
But he emerged as one of MLS’ most dangerous players in the middle of Kansas City’s attacking 4-3-3 formation last year, with five goals and seven assists that helped Sporting finish the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference. It also earned Zusi an invite into the annual U.S. camp in January. He made his international debut on Jan. 21 against Venezuela and scored his first national team goal in a 1-0 win against Panama four days later.
"I have to give Peter Vermes and the Kansas City coaching staff credit because they were patient with Graham," Terps coach Sasho Cirovski said. "Graham is the type of person that – he’s just a very humble person that doesn’t come in guns blazing, ‘I’ve got to play,’ this and that. He works hard. He waits for his opportunity. He has a terrific attitude. He’s almost humble to a fault and doesn’t speak up, but when he gets comfortable , his game speaks loudly."
With six assists already this season - the first of which came on a corner kick in Kansas City's season-opening 1-0 win over D.C. United - Zusi impressed Klinsmann enough to earn a call-up over Sacha Kljestan, who just won the Belgian league title with Anderlecht, and New England midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who was a member of the 2010 World Cup squad. Zusi signed a four-year extension with Kansas City prior to this season.
Among other notable players not invited: United forward/midfielder Chris Pontius, whose play had put him into the fringe mix for consideration, along with DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Tim Ream (Bolton) and Kenny Cooper (New York).
Zusi, one of three Maryland players on the roster, along with Clarence Goodson and Maurice Edu, was one of five MLS players added to Klinsmann's 27-man roster, part of 11 players announced Sunday.
"I think they all learned positions of leadership in our program and I think all three guys were grown, mature men when they left the program," Cirovski said. "They’ve all gotten better every year they’ve been in the pros. I think that speaks loudly of those guys."
The list from Sunday's announcement:
Defenders: Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Clarence Goodson (Brøndby), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting CP), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjælland).
Midfielders: Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).
The full 27-man roster:
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brøndby), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting CP), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjælland).
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (TSG Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Danny Williams (TSG Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).