Sporting Kansas City's dramatic victory over expansion side Austin FC on Sunday was special for a number of reasons.
For starters, fans at Children's Mercy Park were treated to an epic late-game comeback as Sporting struck twice in the final eight minutes through Ilie Sanchez and Gadi Kinda to flip a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win. Kinda's winner ignited an electric celebration and shook the stadium like it hasn't shook since early 2020.
Secondly, Sunday marked the return of three club legends in Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff, assistant Davy Arnaud and defender Matt Besler.
And third, Graham Zusi—Besler's longtime teammate on the field and one of his best friends off the pitch—returned to action for his first MLS action since suffering a serious foot injury on Oct. 7, 2020.
Zusi was inserted straight into Manager Peter Vermes' starting lineup against Austin, reaching a momentous milestone well worth celebrating. The 34-year-old defender has become Sporting's all-time leader with 295 regular season appearances.
"I actually can’t describe in words what it felt to be back in front of the fans," Zusi said after the match. "It kind of caught me off guard (and) I was a bit emotional when I came out for warm-ups. It felt fantastic to be back and to cap it off with a win as well."
MOST MLS REGULAR SEASON APPEARANCES FOR SPORTING KC
|#||Player||Matches||Years with SKC|
|3||Roger Espinoza||258||2008-2012, 2015-present|
As for breaking the tie he held with Besler for most regular season matches in team history, Zusi merely indulged in the proverbial humble pie.
"This club means everything to me; it’s the only one I’ve played for and the only one I know and the only one I’d like to play for," he said. "You go throughout the years and the memories we’ve built here, the trophies we’ve won and the trophies we want to win in the coming years as well. I really have nothing but fond memories from my time here and I’d like to see that continue for as long as possible."
He continued: "As far as I’m concerned, any record that myself or Matt holds, whether one of us jumps the other, we’ve done that all together. So (you) might as well tattoo both our names in the history books."
Zusi and Besler, of course, are two of the most accomplished players and unmistakable faces of the Sporting Kansas City organization. The duo joined the club together in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and went on to win four major championships at the club while also breaking into the U.S. Men's National Team, where they won Concacaf Gold Cups and competed at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Zus and Bes.— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) May 10, 2021
That's the tweet. pic.twitter.com/zocaFqPOHq
Now in his 13th season with Sporting, Zusi has matched former Chicago Fire defender C.J. Brown (1998-2010) for the most MLS seasons played all with the same club. And among one-club players in MLS history, Zusi’s 295 regular season appearances for Sporting rank third most.
MOST MLS REGULAR SEASON APPEARANCES AMONG ONE-CLUB PLAYERS
|1||Cobi Jones||306||LA Galaxy||1996-2007|
|2||C.J. Brown||296||Chicago Fire FC||1998-2010|
|3||Graham Zusi||295||Sporting KC||2009-present|
|4||Logan Pause||286||Chicago Fire FC||2003-2014|
|5||Diego Chara||284||Portland Timbers||2011-present|
Zusi and Sporting (2-1-1, 7 points) will have little time to revel in Sunday's emotional win, as they are slated to visit rivals Houston Dynamo FC (1-1-2, 5 points) in at 7:30 p.m. CT showdown Wednesday at BBVA Stadium. The Western Conference clash will be shown live on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app.