One Winter Park city employee’s son is fresh off representing his country on the world biggest sports stage.
The Winter Park City Commission recognized Team USA soccer player Graham Zusi during their Monday meeting for his time in Brazil playing in the FIFA World Cup tournament.
Mayor Ken Bradley honored Graham by declaring Aug. 18, 2014 – Graham’s 28th birthday – as Graham Zusi Day.
“Graham played in all four games and showed the world what a true superstar here is,” Bradley said. “David, we’re proud of Graham, we’re proud of you and we’re proud of your wife Shirley for raising such a fine young man.”
“He’s truly epitomized the best of athleticism, as well as our United States.”
Graham’s father David received a standing ovation and accepted the proclamation on behalf of his son, who was unable to attend due to traveling with his MLS team, Sporting Kansas City.
“It’s humbling,” said David, who serves as Winter Park’s Water and Wastewater Management Director. “I’m frankly embarrassed by the attention.”
The local soccer talent has built a reputation for scoring prowess throughout his career thus far. He scored the game-winning goal in one of the World Cup qualifying matches last year versus Jamaica in a showdown at Sporting Park – his home MLS stadium.
David would later follow his son overseas to Brazil to watch him represent the U.S. take on the rest of the world. There Graham assisted the game-winning goal versus Ghana and earned another assist against Portugal.
“It’s been humbling for us as a family,” David said. “The support that Graham got – that the whole team got – while we were playing in the World Cup was amazing.”
“We’re watching our country with videos of support in Chicago, Kansas and here – it was very exciting for us.”
Graham started playing soccer at 4 years old, joining a recreational soccer team in Seminole County. He continued playing recreationally with teams such as the Central Florida Kraze and went on to play for the Lake Brantley High School. There he helped his team make it to the state semifinals before graduating and enrolling in the University of Maryland.
Graham spent four years playing college soccer, leading his team to national championship titles in 2005 and 2008.
It wasn’t long after his college graduation that he realized his dream of playing professional soccer, getting selected 23rd overall by Kansas City in the second round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft.
Graham quickly found success on a professional level as well, earning the title of 2011 Breakout Player of the Year and leading his team to the MLS Cup in 2013 as the team MVP and the MLS Offensive Player of the Year.
“Graham is a very shy, humble kid,” David said. “The recognition he finds – he’s kind of embarrassed by it, but he certainly appreciates it.”
The Zusi family could never have dreamed that Graham would represent his county in the FIFA World Cup tournament, David said.
“We all knew he was a really good player,” David said. “I don’t think we were ever presumptuous enough to think that he’s going to be the guy.”
Like any other player, David said, Graham’s journey all started with a dream in the backyard.
“There’s not a kid that doesn’t recreate a World Cup scenario where’s taking the final penalty kick in the championship match,” David said. “He did that with his brothers probably a million times.”