On Sunday afternoon, Sporting Kansas City will walk into a rival stadium in the penultimate battle for its playoff life. The club occupies the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with two games left in the race.
Its former captain has been left at the starting blocks.
In an ongoing storyline in the 2016 season, Matt Besler remained on the bench for the past two matches, a decision made by Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes.
The move apparently caught the attention of U.S. men’s national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann, though it hasn’t prevented him from continuing to call Besler in for national team fixtures.
On Tuesday, Besler started at center back for the Americans in a 1-1 draw with New Zealand. Afterward, he drew rave reviews from Klinsmann.
According to Thomas Floyd of Goal USA, Klinsmann told reporters after the match he thought Besler played a “tremendous game.”
“You wonder right now why he’s not playing in Kansas City,” Klinsmann added in his postgame news conference.
On Wednesday, when asked about Klinsmann’s remark, Vermes replied, “I have no comment.”
But asked what it would take for Besler to regain his starting spot with Sporting KC, Vermes said, “I just need him to get back to who he is.
“That’s really it. I don’t want to go into individual pieces, but I just need him to get back to who he is.
“He has it. It’s not like he hasn’t done it before. He’s done it. That’s all I’m waiting for.”
With only two games left in the regular season, time is dwindling for Besler, who wore the Sporting KC captain’s armband in 2014 and 2015. He opened the 2016 season in that role before relinquishing it to Roger Espinoza in the summer.
Besler, 29, has cycled in and out of the Sporting KC lineup the past few months, starting 15 of the 32 matches this season. He also battled a knee injury that sidelined him.
For the U.S. national team, Besler has been productive. Last month, he recorded his first career national team goal in a victory against St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
He has been less consistent for his hometown club, at least in Vermes’ view. After being benched this summer, Besler regained his spot in August, starting four consecutive matches before the most recent two-game absence.
And Besler remains in the mix to receive playing time over the final two regular-season matches.
“He’s always been in my plans,” Vermes said. “He’s never been out of my plans.”