Besler, Zusi named to U.S. final roster for World Cup

Matt Besler

Graham Zusi

Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi were named to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s final roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, U.S. Soccer announced on Thursday.

“There is no surprise on my end. They have proven themselves over the course of qualifying that they have been integral parts of getting the team to Brazil,” said Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes. “Since we drafted both players, you always knew the potential was there to be high level international players. The most rewarding aspect is that because of the effort of both players year after year and their constant pursuit of excellence has paid off in a fantastic way in that they will have the opportunity play in the biggest sporting event in the world.”

The United States began preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup on May 14 with a training camp at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. The United States will next play three matches as part of the team’s Send Off Series: Azerbaijan on May 27, Turkey on June 1 and Nigeria on June 7.

The U.S. MNT will arrive in Brazil on June 9 ahead of the 32-team tournament, to be held from June 12 – July 13. Ranked 14th in the latest FIFA rankings, the U.S. was drawn in Group G of the 2014 FIFA World Cup alongside Germany (No. 2), Portugal (No. 3) and Ghana (No. 38).

Besler, 27, has made 14 appearances for the United States since debuting in January 2013, including six FIFA World Cup qualifiers and all three knockout round games en route to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup championship. He most recently appeared alongside Zusi in the United States’ 2-2 draw against Mexico on April 2, and the U.S. is 9-1-3 with Besler in the starting lineup.

The Overland Park, Kan., native was named Sporting Kansas City’s captain prior to the 2014 season, his sixth as a professional after being selected eighth overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft out of Notre Dame. Besler has appeared in 145 MLS matches (including postseason) in his career, earning MLS Best XI (2012, 2013), MLS All-Star (2011, 2013) and MLS Defender of the Year (2012) honors.

Zusi has earned 20 appearances for the United States with three goals and four assists in his international career. He scored in the final two FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, highlighted by the game-winning goal against Jamaica at Sporting Park, to secure a first place finish in the Hexagonal for the United States.

Over six professional seasons, the 27-year-old playmaker has played in 142 MLS matches (including postseason) with 18 goals and 40 assists. Zusi recorded a career-high six goals and a team-best 12 assists in all competition in 2013 and was the top-rated midfielder in the MLS Castrol Index. The Maryland alum was an MLS MVP finalist in 2012 and nominee for Best MLS Player at the 2013 ESPYS to go along with MLS All-Star (2012, 2013) and MLS Best XI (2012, 2013) recognition.

U.S. 23-player World Cup roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

All-time KC players at FIFA World Cup
1998: Preki (USA), Uche Okafor (Nigeria)
2002: Tony Meola (USA)
2006: Eddie Johnson (USA), Jimmy Conrad (USA), Josh Wolff (USA)
2010: Roger Espinoza (Honduras)
– Information from Sporting KC

Second-half comeback falls short as Sporting KC drops 2-1 decision to Chicago Fire

Sporting Kansas City’s frantic second-half comeback fell short as the defending MLS Cup champions lost to the Chicago Fire 2-1 Sunday afternoon at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.

Dom Dwyer’s second-half goal was not enough as Mike Magee’s two first-half penalty kick goals gave the home side three points.

Vermes entered Sunday’s match missing three players due to national-team duty (midfielder Graham Zusi and defenders Matt Besler and Lawrence Olum) and another four due to injury (defenders Aurelien Collin and Ike Opara and midfielders Oriol Rosell and Peterson Joseph).

Seventeen-year-old defender Erik Palmer-Brown made his professional debut on Sunday, becoming the youngest player to appear in an MLS match in club history. The Lees Summit native also became the youngest defender to start an MLS match, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, official statistician of Major League Soccer.

The home side got off to a hot start as Sporting KC goalkeeper Eric Kronberg was whistled for a foul in the penalty box in the sixth minute.

Rookie midfielder Harrison Shipp split a pair of Sporting KC defenders, leaving forward Quincy Amarikwa one-on-one with Kronberg. The veteran goalkeeper clipped Amarikwa seven yards from goal and Mike Magee converted the penalty kick for Chicago.

The Fire doubled its  lead only minutes later as Palmer-Brown was given his first of two yellow cards on the day for a foul on Benji Joya at the edge of the penalty box. Referee Jose Carlos Rivera immediately pointed to the spot and Magee converted his second penalty kick of the afternoon.

Sporting Kansas City had an opportunity to cut the deficit before halftime as 19-year-old Brazilian defender Igor Juliao played a perfectly weighted ball over the Fire backline. Dwyer ran on to the pass and tapped it around an out-stretched Sean Johnson, but the ball hit off the far post and was cleared from danger.

The afternoon turned again in Chicago’s favor in the 64th minute when Palmer-Brown was issued a second yellow card for a foul on Amarikwa. The red card was Sporting KC’s third of the year after being issued only one red card in 2013.

Despite playing a man down, Sporting KC continued to press in the second half. The effort paid off in the 68th minute, when Dwyer headed home a Benny Feilhaber free kick to cut the deficit in half. The third-year striker has scored four goals in his last three games and his eight goals in 2014 are tied for second in MLS behind New York Red Bulls’ striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Sporting KC goalkeeper Eric Kronberg made four saves in the match including a finger-tip save on second-half sub Dilly Duka less than a minute after Dwyer’s goal. Kronberg came up big again in the 76th minute, stopping Magee twice in one sequence. A Sean Johnson goalkick skipped through the Sporting KC backline and freed Magee for a one-on-one opportunity with Kronberg. The veteran goalkeeper tapped the ball away from the 2013 MLS MVP at the top of the penalty box and recovered quickly to get his body in front of Magee’s rebound attempt.

Sporting KC’s best opportunity at an equalizer came off a nifty passing sequence in the 79th minute. Juliao played a ball into Dwyer that the English striker one-timed out wide to Jacob Peterson. The veteran winger collected the ball and played it back across the six-yard box, but his cross rolled just out of the reach of a sliding Dwyer.

Sporting KC will now return home for two home games in four days, starting with Friday’s match against Toronto FC, presented by adidas. Limited tickets are available and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 888-4KC-GOAL.

– Story from Sporting KC

Sporting KC beaten 2-1 by Philadelphia in first home defeat of 2014 season

Sporting Kansas City suffered its first home loss of the 2014 season on Wednesday, falling 2-1 to the Philadelphia Union at Sporting Park.

The defeat snapped an 11-game home unbeaten streak in all competition dating back to 2013, when the same Philadelphia side were 1-0 winners on Sept. 27.

After a scoreless first half, Danny Cruz opened the scoring in the 49th minute to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Dom Dwyer scored his team-best seventh goal of the season in the 80th minute to level the score, however the Union’s Cristian Maidana scored the game-winning goal less than a minute later.

Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Eric Kronberg made a season-high five saves on Wednesday, including three in a back-and-forth first half. His first came with a routine stop on Leonardo Fernandes in the seventh minute, followed by a more challenging save in 19th minute on a well-taken attempt by Cruz. His final save of the first 45 minutes was recorded in the 29th minute on a long-range effort from Vincent Nogueira.

Manager Peter Vermes’ squad — playing its third of seven matches in the month of May — matched the visitors with three shots on target in the opening stanza and all came from winger Sal Zizzo. Returning after missing two matches with a groin strain, Zizzo was on the end of an exquisite pass from Graham Zusi in the 12th minute and rolled his shot on frame from the right side. The two connected again in the 33rd minute as Zusi’s cross from the left flank found Zizzo, whose header was saved on the goalline off the leg of MacMath from close range.

The Zusi-to-Zizzo combination continued to create chances and nearly gave Sporting KC the lead in the final minute of first-half stoppage time. Zizzo lined up a shot from 10 yards out that forced MacMath into a sprawling stop at the near post to deny Zizzo his first goal of the campaign.

The second half began with more of the same as MacMath, a fourth-year pro at age 22, was called into action again in the 48th minute. Seth Sinovic let loose a dipping half volley from outside the penalty area that was smothered by the Maryland product with a dive to his right.

The save proved crucial when 30 seconds later Philadelphia pulled ahead on the opposite end of the field. Kronberg made the initial save to turn away Maidana’s left-footed strike only to see Cruz pounce on the rebound with a sliding finish from inside the six-yard box for his first goal of the season and 10th of his MLS career.

The Union could have doubled the lead in the 59th minute if not for an important intervention by Kronberg to come off his line. Andrew Wenger, acquired in a trade last month, shrugged off a tackle by Aurelien Collin but couldn’t slip his shot past Kronberg.

Dwyer entered the match in the 71st minute, replacing Designated Player Claudio Bieler who had directed a header on target moments before his exit. The move paid off within 10 minutes via a give-and-go with Paulo Nagamura that setup Dwyer’s thunderous goal into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area. The Generation adidas product now has goals in back-to-back games after scoring twice in a 2-0 victory at Montreal on the weekend and his seven goals are fourth most in MLS this season.

The momentum from the equalizer was ultimately short-lived as Philadelphia responded with a goal of its own from the ensuing kickoff. Cruz played an entry ball inside the area to Wenger and the former No. 1 overall draft pick held off challenges from Benny Feilhaber and Lawrence Olum before laying the ball off to Maidana. The Argentine placed his first-time shot past Kronberg from 12 yards out for his first career MLS goal, which proved to be the difference in the first of three meetings between the two teams this season despite a 90th minute red card to Union midfielder Corben Bone within a minute of entering the match.

Sporting Kansas City remains in first place in the Eastern Conference and will next travel to Chicago for a 2 p.m. match-up with the Fire on Sunday at Toyota Park.

Defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi will join the U.S. Men’s National Team on Thursday as part of the 30-player preliminary roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. While serving as a sendoff for those two, Wednesday’s match was also the debut for Igor Juliao as he became the youngest player in club history to start and play the full 90 minutes in an MLS match at 19 years of age.

– Story from Sporting KC