Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are two of the players most responsible for engendering soccer prosperity in Kansas City. They are one cut away from earning the opportunity to do the same for their home country.
Both of the Sporting Kansas City veterans will join the United States men’s national team for its 30-player pre-World Cup camp in California, coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced Monday.
The roster will be trimmed to 23 players prior to the World Cup, which begins June 12 in Brazil.
“It’s something that I’ve dreamt of, of course, but I don’t know if I ever really thought it was going to become a reality,” Zusi said. “That’s the special part for me — the amount of work we’ve put into this game paying off.”
Before joining the men’s national team camp at Stanford University in California, Zusi and Besler will play in Sporting KC’s home match Wednesday against Philadelphia. A day later, they will shed their Sporting Blue for the United States’ red, white and blue.
“I’m looking forward to getting into camp with the guys, with our teammates and getting to work,” Besler said. “We’re all ready. Everyone is anxious to start the work, but we’re all going to put it in and hopefully get this thing rolling and peak at the right time.”
Trying to earn a chance to represent their home country in the World Cup in Brazil, Zusi and Besler will take part in what most believe will be a grueling final camp with Klinsmann. The team is scheduled to endure two-a-day training sessions over the next three weeks.
The fitness requirements, however, should be nothing new for a pair of players who evolved under Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes’ “Sporting Fit” system.
“They have a coach that drives them, and you can see that clearly in their development,” Klinsmann said. “Peter doesn’t let things through. He doesn’t let them take things easy. They work hard for what they’re doing.
“That’s why they have developed into two players in our environment (who) are very important.”
Each nation participating in the World Cup must submit its final 23-player roster to FIFA by June 2. All the U.S. players selected for soccer’s largest stage will come from the 30-man camp announced Monday.
Indications are that Klinsmann plans to wait as long as possible — perhaps the final day — to announce his roster, which represents a departure from his original plan. Klinsmann will likely use the threat of the final seven cuts to increase competition within his team during the camp.
By contrast, Mexico announced its 23-player World Cup roster Friday.
If selected to the World Cup roster, Zusi and Besler would miss a minimum of six Sporting Kansas City league matches, plus a handful of potential U.S. Open Cup matches. If the national team qualifies for the knockout stage, those numbers would grow. A year after winning the MLS Cup championship, Sporting KC is locked in a tie with New England atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Besler and Zusi have grown into central components of Klinsmann’s team. Besler figures to enter the camp as the favorite to start at the left central defender position, while Zusi has made 20 appearances for the team over the last two-plus years.
“You have to prove yourself every single day in practice and camp,” Besler said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. I think Jurgen has proved that with some of the guys on the team. If you look at a guy like Landon (Donovan), arguably the best player in U.S. history, he has to prove himself every day, just like everyone else on the team. So that’s the mentality.”
The United States will play three international exhibitions on its home soil before departing for Brazil. The Americans face Azerbaijan on May 27, 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.
The U.S. team has not made it past the quarterfinal round of the FIFA World Cup since 1930. And few have picked the United States to advance that far this summer.
It shares Group G with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. The first two teams are considered soccer powerhouse clubs, while Ghana has been somewhat of a recent nemesis for the Americans, who are No. 14 in this month’s FIFA World Rankings.