Back in 2012, things were a little different for Graham Zusi.
Then a breakout star for Sporting Kansas City and earning a role with the U.S. Men's National Team, the then-central midfielder was headed for his first MLS All-Star game, en route to becoming the league's assist king that year with 15.
These days Zusi is a known commodity, and now a fullback, preparing for his seventh All-Star game Wednesday (7 p.m. CT | FS1, UniMas) at Exploria Stadium.
“Gosh, my first All-Star game I was so wide-eyed then," Zusi told MLSsoccer.com Monday. "In 2012 it was in Philly — I probably don’t remember anything about it. It just went by in an absolute blur. Now, I’m able to calm down and enjoy it, have fun with the guys. That’s one of the most fun parts, just being with the guys around the league. Hanging with them, playing with them is a lot of fun.”
This may be his seventh experience at All-Star, but the event still doesn't get old.
“I’m never over these things, I enjoy one as much as the next," Zusi said. "Especially with the way I’ve been selected the past couple times, with the fan vote, it’s super special. These weeks are about giving back to the fans, showing your appreciation for them. I guess that’s why I’m never over it.”
Over the years, Zusi has countless memories, but one stands out.
“The best goal I ever saw in All-Star was probably the Bradley Wright-Phillips' goal in Portland, just a banger," Zusi recounted with a smile on his face. "I was actually sitting next to Thierry Henry at the moment and he did one of those things where he grabs my leg, like, did we just witness that thing?! We made eye contact. I’ll always remember that moment because it was so funny. That one just sticks out to me for some reason.”
Still, he's ready to make more memories. This year is particularly special, as Zusi returns to his hometown of Orlando.
“I haven’t been here in so long, everything looks completely different to me," he said. "When I was growing up here, downtown wasn’t really a hangout spot. It was just a business district, but that changed so much. Restaurants, coffee shops, things to do — it’s exciting. I think Orlando City did a fantastic job to put the stadium downtown, it’s huge for fan-following.
“This is really cool for me," Zusi continued. "Growing up in these parts, the closest thing for me was the Tampa Bay Mutiny or Miami Fusion. Hardly ever got to see a professional game. For it to be in my home city now, it’s pretty cool.”