KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It’s been a good five days for Sporting Kansas City center back Matt Besler.
On Wednesday, Besler went the distance and had a key penalty conversion in Sporting’s shootout win over Seattle for the US Open Cup title. On Saturday, he recorded his first assist of the season in SKC’s 2-1 home victory over D.C. United.
And on Sunday, Besler got his first call-up to the US national team ahead of Wednesday’s friendly against Mexico at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City (8 pm ET, ESPN2/Univision).
Besler will be joined by midfielder Graham Zusi, who made his USMNT debut in January and has now been called into camp three times this year by coach Juergen Klinsmann. Both left early Sunday, just hours after the United game.
“I’ve been working hard to get the chance and it’s a blessing, so I hope to make the very best of it,” Besler said in a statement issued by the team. “It’ll make it easier to have [Zusi] there; he’s been there before. Obviously I know him very well, so hopefully he’ll help ease the process for me.”
Sporting manager Peter Vermes said Besler’s call-up reflects the progress he has made in his club career.
“It’s a good introduction for him,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a great time for him to go get his feet wet and see what that level is all about.”
Going into Azteca, where Mexico have never lost to the Americans, wouldn’t just be getting Besler’s feet wet. At 7,200 feet, it’s at a far higher altitude than Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the 5,200-foot-high home of the Colorado Rapids and MLS’ loftiest venue.
And Mexican officials are expecting a sold-out crowd of more than 105,000 fans, adding to an already difficult challenge for the American side.
“The atmosphere is incredible,” said Vermes, who played at Azteca several times with the US national team. “It’s going to be a completely different feel. It’s an opposing crowd that’s going to be completely in favor of Mexico. He’s going to feel what it’s going to be like to be in an opponent’s den.”
It will also be Zusi’s first trip to Azteca, but he got his first taste of facing a hostile Central American crowd in January, when he scored the Nats’ game-winner in a 1-0 friendly win at Panama. He also was called into camp for the most recent round of World Cup qualifiers but did not make Klinsmann’s final roster.
“Whenever you get the chance to really showcase yourself and get a chance with the US team, it’s a great opportunity,” Zusi said in a statement. “I just want to take advantage of it and do the best that I can with it.
“I’m really excited to see Besler get called in as well,” Zusi added. “It’s a good testament to what the team has been accomplishing as of late. When you’re winning and playing well, that’s when you get noticed the most.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.