Sporting KC’s Matt Besler, Graham Zusi make U.S. World Cup roster

05/22/2014 8:51 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The lifebloods of soccer resurgence in Kansas City are taking their talents to a world stage.

Matt Besler and Graham Zusi were officially announced Thursday as members of the United States men’s national team roster for the 2014 World Cup, which opens June 12 in Brazil.

The Sporting Kansas City veterans have been with the national team since May 15 for its preliminary camp.

“I’m extremely humbled and honored to be named to the final World Cup roster,” Besler said in a text message. “This is certainly a dream of mine, and I look forward to experiencing my first World Cup.”

Besler and Zusi are in.

Landon Donovan is out.

The national team’s all-time leading scorer, Donovan, 32, was one of seven players cut from the 30-man camp. He has appeared in three World Cup competitions and is widely considered the best men’s soccer player in U.S. history.

His absence may open up a starting spot in the midfield for Zusi, who along with Besler has grown into a central component of coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. Besler also figures to enter the World Cup as a favorite to start as a left center back.

“They work hard for what they’re doing. That’s why they developed into two players in our environment (who) are very important,” Klinsmann said in a teleconference call last week.

They both can be considered late bloomers in a new wave of American talent under Klinsmann.

Besler made his debut for the national team in January 2013 and featured his breakout performance during a scoreless draw against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on March 26, 2013.

Zusi first appeared with the U.S. team one year earlier. He has scored three goals and recorded four assists across 20 appearances. He scored in each of the final two World Cup qualifying matches.

“It’s a great reward for the hard work they’ve put in and the pursuit of excellence those guys have on a daily basis,” said Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes, who played in the 1990 World Cup. “I’m extremely happy for them. They’re going to be playing not only on the biggest stage of soccer but what I think is the biggest sporting event in the world.”

The United States will play three international exhibitions on its home soil before departing for Brazil. The Americans face Azerbaijan on Tuesday, Turkey on June 1 and Nigeria on June 7, the latter only nine days before they open their World Cup schedule against Ghana on June 16.

They will also play Germany and Portugal in group stage.

“I think we all understand that we have a major challenge ahead of us — scheduling-wise, travel-wise, opponent wise,” Besler said in a news conference last week. “In order for us to advance and be successful in this tournament, we’re going to have to play our best soccer.”

In the meantime, Zusi and Besler will miss at least five more Sporting KC league matches, plus a handful of potential U.S. Open Cup matches. If the national team makes it out of group play and qualifies for the knockout stage, those numbers would grow.

Sporting KC fell 2-1 to Chicago on Sunday in its first match without the two All-Stars, who are set to become the eighth and ninth players to appear in a World Cup while playing with Sporting KC or the Kansas City Wizards.

Preki and Uche Okafor played in the 1998 World Cup; Tony Meola was with the United States in 2002; Eddie Johnson, Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff were part of the U.S. national team in 2006; and Roger Espinoza joined Honduras in 2010.

The official 23-player roster will be turned over to FIFA on June 2. In addition to Donovan, other players cut Thursday were defenders Brad Evans, Michael Parkhurst and Clarence Goodson, midfielders Maurice Edu and Joe Corona and forward Terrence Boyd.

To reach Sam McDowell, send email to smcdowell@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.

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