Graham Zusi (8) has kept KC supporters cheering all season with 5 goals, MLS-best 15 assists. (Getty Images)

My USA preview centers on KC hometown hero Graham Zusi, a former Maryland Terrapin who, in less than two years, has gone from MLS reserve to MVP candidate and from national team outsider to starter in World Cup qualifiers.

A few leftover tidbits from the interview:

His ethnic background, he said, is a mix of French, Irish, Lebanese and Native American. Although Graham is from the Orlando area, his father David grew up in the D.C. suburb of Bethesda and graduated from Walter Johnson High School. His father is a civil engineer who works for the city of Winter Park, Fla.; his mother Shirley is a high school teacher. His older brother Michael played at Liberty University.

Graham left Maryland after the 2008 NCAA championship but continues to follow the program closely and has regular chats with Terps Coach Sasho Cirovski.

“We had a conversation about two weeks ago and I just reminded him to make sure he stays aggressive and doesn’t get into a defensive mentality of trying to maintain a position,” Cirovski said. “Just do the things he has been doing, which is play with a great deal of confidence and aggression. He is running at people, he is serving balls with malice. Sometimes people just try to maintain their status quo. I told him to keep pushing, keep pushing.”

Two other former Terps are with the national team in Kansas City: defender Clarence Goodson and midfielder-defender Maurice Edu. Maryland (11-0-1) remained No. 1 in Soccer America’s rankings this week.

Zusi signed a new long-term contract before this season, boosting his base salary from $42,000 to $105,000 ($138,000 guaranteed compensation) — a well-deserved raise but, considering what he has done this year, still a cheap date for Sporting Kansas City.

*Only Mexico enters the final semifinal-round matchday without any worries about securing passage. The other five slots remain unresolved. Costa Rica, which is second in Group B and hosts last-place Guyana, is on the brink of clinching. Panama is close as well and will visit Group C bottom-dweller Cuba. Canada requires only a point to join the Panamanians but will need to earn a point at Honduras — no easy task without injured star Dwayne De Rosario.

In Group A, the Americans would go through with a victory or draw against Guatemala (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Telefutura). If they lose, they would have to rely on Jamaica losing, tying or winning by a small margin in Kingston against last-place Antigua & Barbuda — highly unlikely. [The CONCACAF tables are available here.]

Once the field is set, CONCACAF and representatives from the six nations will talk among themselves in an attempt to work out the order of hexagonal matches. If the schedule isn’t resolved to everyone’s satisfaction within two weeks, FIFA would conduct a draw, according to a USSF spokesman.

The 2013 dates, which fall inside FIFA fixture windows, are March 22-26, June 7-11, June 14-18, Sept. 6-10 and Oct. 11-15. Each team will play two games during every period for a total of 10 apiece.

Three CONCACAF sides will automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A fourth team will play the Oceania winner in a two-leg playoff in November 2013.

*Referee for USA-Guatemala match: Roberto Moreno of Panama.

*Kansas City travelogue: Red beans and rice for a $4 late lunch at YJ’s Snack Bar, a funky little place behind a creaky screen door in the Crossroads Arts District.