It was probably 20 minutes after the opening whistle Tuesday when Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler dipped toward the ground — one leg under his body and the other straight out in front of him — for his first attempt at a slide tackle during the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Besler, 25, might as well have been a 10-year-old playing on a backyard Slip ’N Slide, given the broad smile across his face as he popped up from the Livestrong Sporting Park turf after dispossessing a Dayton Dutch Lions attacker.
“That felt really good,” said Besler, a 2005 Blue Valley West graduate. “I came up with a little bit of a grin on my face. It was fun to be back out there.”
Besler, who is a starting central defender and 2011 MLS All-Star, underwent an appendectomy on June 8 and had missed Sporting KC’s last three games. But he reported no pain upon his return to the pitch — only joy.
“It’s tough,” Besler said. “You get a little bit selfish just sitting there and not being able to do anything, but I am glad to be back and helping out the team now.”
And his Sporting KC teammates were thrilled to have him back.
“There might have been some nerves on his part seeing how everything would hold up, but after that first (slide tackle) when he realized everything was fine, he looked more like himself,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “This was a very good game for him to come back to.”
Besler, of course, would have preferred not to miss any time, and not just as a way to avoid surgery either.
Not playing had not been sitting well with Besler, who phoned manager Peter Vermes as soon as Sporting KC — which went 1-1-1 without him — returned Sunday to Kansas City on the heels of an embarrassing loss in Philadelphia.
After training Monday, Besler received final clearance from his doctors to return, prompting another call to Vermes.
“I got the final clearance that everything was healing properly and I was 100 percent go,” Besler said. “I called and told him I wanted to start and go as long as I can.”
Besler went 68 minutes against Dayton (KC won 3-0) and wasn’t too worn down, though he and the rest of Sporting KC’s defense weren’t tested much. Sporting KC faced only four shots, and none on goal.
Then again, that was kind of the point in easing him back into action against a Lions squad with a 1-7-5 record this season in the United Soccer League Pro Division.
“He looked good,” Vermes said. “I think the biggest thing for him is just the 90 minutes, which is why we didn’t give it to him. We didn’t want to wear him out. We may need him on Friday.”
Besler is confident that he’ll be ready to go full time if needed as Sporting KC returns to MLS action at 7 p.m. Friday against the Chicago Fire at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“One of the things that we were going to monitor was how I felt physically, because I had a major surgery and I didn’t run for 10 days,” Besler said. “It worked out perfectly with me getting 65 or 70 minutes. I’m ready to go Friday.”