When qualifying for the 2014 World Cup resumes next week, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler are in line to help the U.S. men’s national team extend an unprecedented 12-game win streak.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
The Sporting Kansas City duo — Besler, 26, is a centerback and Zusi, 27, is a midfielder — were among 23 players who have been called into camp by coach Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of key matches Sept. 6 at Costa Rica and Sept. 10 against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s a great honor, and it doesn’t get old,” said Zusi, one of seven midfielders on the roster. “These are two important games coming up, and we’d like to seal our fate in the group and qualify.”
Through six of 10 games in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, the U.S. sits in first place among six teams with 13 points.
“We’re certainly on a great run here — 12 games against some pretty formidable opponents as well,” Zusi said. “We’re playing with a great deal of confidence, and we’re a tough team to beat right now.”
The top three teams earn automatic berths to the World Cup next summer in Brazil, while the fourth-place team faces New Zealand, the champion from the Oceania region, for the final berth.
Costa Rica — which unsuccessfully protested a 1-0 loss March 22 in Denver, a game played in a blizzard — sits in second place with 11 points.
The U.S. has never won a World Cup qualifying match against Los Ticos in Costa Rica, providing additional motivation for Klinsmann’s crew.
“We’re feeling good about where we’re at, and we definitely have a reason to bring in confidence to this camp. But I hope that we all bring in the attitude that there’s still work to be done,” Besler said.
Meanwhile, Mexico sits in third place with eight points, one ahead of Honduras and two in front of Panama. Jamaica is last in The Hex standings with two points.
Staying atop the group is an important goal. But even more important, the U.S. has an opportunity to clinch a World Cup berth with two wins.
“We want to qualify first in our region, and we want to leave no doubt,” Besler said. “The way you do that is you take it game by game.”
Both players are expected to suit up Saturday when Sporting KC hosts the Colorado Rapids at Sporting Park, but Besler and Zusi will miss the Sept. 7 home match against the Columbus Crew.
The U.S. men’s final home match in qualifying is Oct. 11 against Jamaica at Sporting Park. Tickets for that game go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday through Ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes and former U.S. men’s forward Joe-Max Moore will be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in a ceremony before the Jamaica match.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.