KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Matt Besler is usually the guy who anchors Sporting Kansas City's defense, the last man in the back ahead of the goalkeeper. But when he was given rare free rein to come forward on Sunday night, he made the most of it.
The US national team defender, making a rare appearance off the bench in his first MLS match since returning from Copa America Centenario, delivered a stoppage-time header to give Sporting a 3-2 victory over shorthanded Columbus Crew SC at Children's Mercy Park.
“It was a big win for us,” Besler told reporters afterward. “We really needed it at this point in the season, especially at home. Honestly, it didn't mater how we got the job done tonight or who scored the goals. The fact is that we got the three points and hopefully we can gain some momentum from this and move forward.”
It was just the third goal of Besler's long career with Kansas City, and the first since October 22, 2011, in a 1-0 victory over DC United in the season finale.
It came as a result of Besler's talk with assistant coach Zoran Savic before he came on for Lawrence Olum in the 54th minute with the score knotted at 1-1 and Sporting up a man after the Crew's Tyson Wahl was sent off in the 48th minute for a denial of goal scoring opportunity foul on Dom Dwyer – a foul that led to Benny Feilhaber's conversion from the penalty spot in the 49th.
“When I went in, we were going over set piece responsibilities and [Savic] said I could make the call on whether I go up or not,” Besler said. “The moment I went in the game, we were tied 1-1, I believe. When we were up 2-1, you probably make the decision to stay back and protect, but we needed the goal at that moment, so that's why I went up.”
They wouldn't have had him on the pitch at all on Sunday, had things gone according to manager Peter Vermes' plan. Besler started on the bench after going the full 90 in Sporting's 3-1 US Open Cup loss on Wednesday in Houston, and only came in because Olum was experiencing some groin tightness.
“Coming in as a sub is different,” he said. “There's challenges that go along with it, especially as a central defender. It doesn't happen too often. Fortunately, I've had some decent experience the last couple of weeks, playing with the national team and having to be available off the bench. Tonight was no different.”
Before his rare offensive heroics, Besler likely helped Sporting keep from going down 3-2 in the 86th minute – racing to deny Columbus' Ethan Finley on a high ball out of the back, with no one else between Finley and Tim Melia's goal.
“I was actually over on the other side of the field, because I had a guy over there,” Besler said. “Fortunately, I was able to read the play. I was also on a yellow card, so I knew that I had to get the ball. I knew that was going to be risky if I got there late, because I probably would have gotten another yellow and gotten thrown out of the game. Fortunately, it worked out in my favor that time.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com