Following his latest stint with the United States men’s national team — a trip that included three World Cup qualifying victories in 12 days — Matt Besler returned to Kansas City on Wednesday with the chance to finally take a day away from soccer and catch his breath.
By SAM MCDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
Instead, he went another route.
A day after starting and playing the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 victory against Honduras, Besler greeted Kansas City with some renewed energy. Before he reflected on his trip with the United States, he opted to look ahead to rejoining Sporting Kansas City for its game in Dallas on Saturday.
“I’m coming back with a lot of energy and coming back with a lot of confidence, as well,” Besler said in a phone interview. “I’m very excited to start back up again with Sporting (KC) and get going.”
During his Sporting KC absence, Besler represented his home country quite well. So, too, did his Sporting KC teammate, Graham Zusi. Both played key roles in the national team’s 1-0 victory against Honduras.
Zusi made the initial pass to kick-start the scoring play finished off by Jozy Altidore’s fourth goal in as many games. This one served as the game-winner in the 73rd minute Tuesday.
As for Besler, he again started in the middle of a back line that has allowed only one goal over the past three games.
That continues a hard-to-ignore trend with Besler, who made his first international start on Jan. 29. He’s made five more since, and the United States is unbeaten in those games — four wins and two draws. By comparison, in the three games Besler hasn’t started in 2013, the team is 1-2-0.
Coincidence? Perhaps. But maybe not. Besler says the recent performance is a product of the national-team defenders becoming more familiar with one another.
“As a team, we’ve come together during the last round of qualifiers — everyone is on the same page,” Besler said. “I think specifically in the back right now, we all believe in each other.”
The synergy appears to have spread throughout the squad. With Tuesday’s win, the United States sealed a maximum nine points in its June swing of qualifying matches.
Zusi didn’t receive an assist for his work Tuesday, but he has assisted on two goals this year while showcasing his creativity from the wing. His efforts have been rewarded with seven starts in 2013.
“It’s been incredible. I still kind of have to pinch myself every now and then,” Zusi said. “It’s always a goal of yours growing up, but you never know if it’s going to happen.”
With Besler and Zusi helping pave the way, the United States is playing arguably its best soccer — or perhaps most consistent — in coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 22-month tenure. And that puts the United States in solid footing for World Cup qualifying.
It remains in first place in the CONCACAF group with 13 points in six matches. The next qualifying match will take place against Costa Rica on Sept. 6.
“I think we feel like we have that one foot in the door, but we’re certainly not going to be complacent about these next games,” Zusi said. “We’re going to do our best to get as many points as possible.”