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Graham Zusi prefers to let his play do the talking

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SAO PAULO – I know you remember that goal on Monday night, the one where John Brooks got his head to the ball and sent the United States into waves of delirium.

But do you remember the guy who made it happen, the player whose perfect cross found Brooks unmarked and enabled a magical World Cup moment for the Americans?

If you're a devoted follower of the U.S. national team, your answer in a heartbeat would be "Graham Zusi." If you're a once-every-four-years kind of soccer lover, then you're probably thinking "Graham who?"

The funny thing is, Zusi, an All-Star midfielder from Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer, doesn't mind the latter one bit.

"It can be pretty hard to get a word out of Graham at times," Zusi's father David told Yahoo Sports recently by telephone. "And he is the last guy in the world who is going to go looking for the spotlight."

Zusi senior is spot-on. When quizzed about his role in the goal that made a nation scream with delight in the U.S.'s 2-1 win over Ghana, Graham wanted no part of the adulation.

[Related: Will American hero Brooks crack starting lineup?]

"All I can do is try to put it in a dangerous spot," Graham told Yahoo Sports at Arena das Dunas. "But all the credit should go to John Brooks."

Soccer players aren't exactly shy talking about themselves. The World Cup is full of loud, brash, cocky stars whose egos match their ability and whose bank balances outweigh both.

Graham seems to be a different breed. He is happiest with his closest friends and family and he honestly has little interest in the external distractions that are inevitable for a professional athlete.

"I've had a radio guy tell me that Graham was the worst interview he had ever done," David said. "The problem is that he just doesn't like talking about himself much.

[Video: Klinsmann wants win -- not tie -- vs. Portugal]

"But he is a great kid and a quietly generous person. He paid off a large chunk of my daughter Megan's nursing school payment. And then there is the matter of Brazil."

Graham was uncharacteristically outspoken when it came to the topic of his family coming to watch him at the World Cup. He surprised his father by strongly and insistently stressing how important their presence was to him.

That is why there are nine members of the Zusi clan currently in Brazil. The group paid for their own fights, but Graham picked up the tab for everything else, including hotel bills and domestic flights around Brazil.

Graham's Sporting K.C. earnings of $398,250 mean he won't go hungry anytime soon, but they are a far cry from many soccer stars whose earnings go into the millions and beyond.

Graham Zusi's journey from MLS rookie to World Cup impact player is one that he has largely shared with club and national team colleague Matt Besler. The pair are best friends, and when Zusi started out with Sporting K.C. he lived with Besler and his family to try to make his meager salary stretch a little further.

The duo won the MLS Cup with the club last year and became established in the national team setup during World Cup qualifying. They are guaranteed to get a stirring welcome when they head back to Kansas City after the tournament, especially from a pair of friends they had to leave behind.

[Photos: U.S.'s thrilling win over Ghana in headlines]

Zusi and Besler adopted two dogs from a Kansas City stray center called Wayside Waifs. Zusi named his dog Baci (Italian for "kisses") and Besler called his Gipper (in honor of George Gipp, the legendary American football player at Notre Dame, Besler's alma mater). Both light up when talking about their pets.

Zusi, 27, is so laid back it is hard to fathom that he could possibly muster the intensity needed to compete at soccer's top level. But he showed his mettle on Monday, and when the U.S. faces Portugal in Manaus this Sunday, he is likely to get an increase in playing time as coach Jurgen Klinsmann is considering starting him at right midfield.

With another game-turning performance, Zusi will find it even harder to avoid the spotlight.

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