KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes is fond of saying that “One man's absence is another man's opportunity.” That's definitely the case for Sporting center back Matt Besler.
With the US national team's backline thinned by injury going into the next round of Hexagonal stage World Cup qualifying, the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year should be in the mix to play against Costa Rica on Friday in Denver (10 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas) and Mexico on March 26 at Estadio Azteca.
“I get excited every time I'm called up,” Besler said shortly before he and Sporting winger Graham Zusi (above) departed to report for USMNT camp. “But I think I'm past the initial first call-up where it's like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is just awesome.' Now I'm focused on the team and I think it's great that I'm called up, but I want to go and win the games and get some points.”
Besler (at right) was in the 18 but did not play when the US beat Mexico in a summer 2012 friendly at the Azteca, their first-ever win on Mexican soil. He made his first appearance in January – also in a friendly – when he started the Yanks' scoreless draw against Canada, but was not selected for the United States' 2-1 loss in Honduras to open Hex play.
“I'm taking the right steps,” he said. “The Mexico call-up was almost to get my feet wet and to see what it's like. The Honduras call-up was, 'I'm ready to play if they need me.' We'll see when we get there about playing time and opportunities, but now I feel like I'm definitely a part of this team and I'm ready to contribute if needed.”
Zusi has established himself as one of Klinsmann's regulars, with eight caps including appearances in the United States' last four World Cup qualifiers.
“Every time you're with the guys you become more comfortable with them,” he added. “As much training as you can get helps. I think these four or five training sessions before the game on Friday are going to be helpful, too.”
Playing in front of a raucous home crowd at Sporting Park, Zusi said, also eases the transition to a high-pressure, high-intensity World Cup qualifying match.
“Azteca is a fun place to play, an incredible atmosphere,” he said. “Last time it wasn't at full capacity, but I definitely expect it to be rocking this time. That's a place where if you can steal a point or three, it means a lot in your qualifying. But the atmosphere here is just as good as an international atmosphere.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.