KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Matt Besler wears the chip on his shoulder as proudly as he wears the Sporting Kansas City crest on his chest.
He wants to win in New York on Saturday for all the club-approved reasons, of course: a chance to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference, gain home-field advantage through the conference postseason and continue Sporting's 10-match unbeaten run.
But it runs deeper than that for the center back.
“I get excited playing the big-market teams,” Besler said Thursday during the club's weekly news conference. “It's another chance to beat them.”
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Besler is a Kansas City-area native, born and raised in the suburb of Overland Park, Kan. He's heard the “flyover country” cracks, fumed at the perceived slights from big-city media and read how marquee international players only want to come to MLS' glamor clubs.
He wants to beat New York, just for being New York.
“That's been my mindset, growing up here in Kansas City,” he said. “A lot of times, we don't get a lot of respect nationally.”
Besler has other equally personal reasons for wanting to succeed against the Red Bulls Designated Player-filled lineup, as he did when Sporting shut them out 2-0 on Sept. 19.
“I get fired up to play the big names,” he said. “I like to play against DPs, see where I stack myself up against them. I think I'm right there with them. That's the challenge. When you perform well and you end up beating these guys, I think you look back and you can be satisfied.”
And, perhaps, look forward and be hopeful.
Besler wasn't at Livestrong Sporting Park on Tuesday night, when the US beat Guatemala 3-1 to reach the Hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying. But he was watching – and inspired.
“This is me going on record,” Besler tweeted after the match. “I will work as hard as I possibly can to get on the field. Looked like a blast.” Then he added a hashtag: “#whateveritakes.”
“I was pumped up,” he said on Thursday. “I was jealous of the guys. I wanted to be out there on the field, or even be on the bench and be involved.”
Besler got his first taste of international duty as an unused substitute for the USMNT's historic 1-0 friendly win in Mexico on Aug. 15. For him, the key to earning another invitation is simple: Continue to shine for his club, especially in clutch situations against quality competition.
“I'm pretty confident that if I keep playing the way I'm playing, I'm going to get looks,” he said. “I'm not going to go out and try to raise my game so much just to get noticed for the national team. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and try to play consistently, like I have all year. I think that'll do the trick.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.