The Full 90

Sporting KC’s Besler, Zusi make team for U.S. World Cup qualifier

Updated: 2013-02-05T00:56:50Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

As was widely expected, Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi and centerback Matt Besler were called back into camp with the U.S. men’s national team Monday when coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced his 24-player roster for Wednesday’s FIFA World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who Sporting KC acquired via trade from New England in December, also participated in the U.S. men’s January camp and hoped to make the travel roster for Honduras.

Instead, the U.S. men’s loss is Sporting KC’s gain.

“You always hope for the best, but I don’t think anyone can always expect to be called in for national team games,” Feilhaber said. “It’s 24 guys, so a privileged few guys get the honor of playing for the United States in qualifiers and the World Cup.”

Now, Feilhaber, 28, can focus on getting acclimated with his new team, which returned to Kansas City on Saturday after preseason training in Tucson, Ariz.

Sporting KC leaves Thursday for its second leg of training in Orlando, Fla., with Feilhaber expected to make a substantial impact as the two-time reigning Eastern Conference regular-season champions get ready for the MLS opener March 2 at the Philadelphia Union.

“Going into this next phase, it’s going to be really team-oriented and functionally around the position of these guys,” Sporting KC manager and technical director Peter Vermes said. “So, it’s a good time for him to join us.”

Feilhaber is a man on a mission. He enjoyed a strong first season with New England in 2011, scoring four goals with seven assists in 23 games, but those numbers dipped to only one goal and two assists in 29 appearances, including 23 starts, in 2012.

“Last year was a real disappointment,” Feilhaber said. “I was frustrated with our results and my play as well. During this offseason, I wanted to get to some place where I knew it would be the best place for me to be successful. This was it, so I’m extremely happy to have this opportunity and I feel very lucky to have been taken in by this organization.”

Undoubtedly, Zusi, who led Major League Soccer with a career-high 15 assists last season en route MLS Best XI and All-Star honors, and Besler, the reigning MLS defender of the year and breakout player of the year, feel lucky too.

Zusi, 26, has become a fixture with the national team. He started the last three U.S. men’s World Cup qualifiers during the semifinal round and made seven appearances for the U.S. team in 2012.

“Graham matured throughout the last year and stepped it up,” Klinsmann said. “He’s in that inner circle of the group right now. He played World Cup qualifiers and gained experienced, but also from a confidence level he stepped it up. That’s great to see.”

Meanwhile, Besler, 25 from Overland Park, made his international debut with the U.S. team last week in a 0-0 draw against Canada. He also received Best XI honors for the 2012 MLS season and hopes to follow in Zusi’s footsteps in becoming a national team regular.

“Matt Besler is knocking at the door, he had a very strong January camp,” Klinsmann said. “… We believe Matt Besler has the capabilities to step it up to the international level. So does (LA Galaxy centerback) Omar (Gonzalez), so that gives us more options and a very busy year 2013.”

The U.S. men’s match against Honduras — featuring former Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza, who transferred to Wigan Athletic of the English Premier League last month — kicks off at 3 p.m. Wednesday and will be broadcast live on beIN SPORT.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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