When Sporting Kansas City hosts expansion side Austin FC on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park, a pair of longtime best friends and two of the most accomplished MLS players in Kansas City history will find themselves in an unfamiliar situation.


For the first time ever, Sporting defender Graham Zusi and Austin FC defender Matt Besler will be opponents.


As unmistakable faces of the Sporting franchise, Zusi and Besler led Sporting to an MLS Cup, three U.S. open Cup titles and nine playoff appearances from 2009-2020. Besler moved from Sporting to Austin FC ahead of the 2021 campaign and will return to Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday in a marquee showdown on FS1, FOX Deportes and the FOX Sports app.



“It’s going to be weird seeing Matt wearing a different jersey in that game,” Zusi said Tuesday during his weekly appearance on Sports Radio 810 WHB. “I know he’s going to get an extremely warm reception, as he should. In that aspect, I’m excited to see it. It’ll just be strange seeing him in a jersey other than ours.”


Zusi and Besler famously began their MLS careers together as 2009 MLS SuperDraft selections with the Kansas City Wizards. As rookies, they lived together in the basement of Besler’s parents’ house. Only five years later, they were starting alongside each other for the United States Men’s National Team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.


“For the Beslers to have taken me in at a time where I had no idea where this career was going to take me—my first contract was not a guaranteed contract,” Zusi said. “At any point in the season they could have let me go and I would have been out. It was huge for them to open their doors to me and give me a friendly, warm place to be. We’re still extremely close and keep in touch all of the time.”


The meteoric rise that Zusi and Besler experienced together will forever serve as one of the best stories tied to Sporting’s illustrious history. On Sunday, a compelling twist to the tale will be written as Besler visits Kansas City as an opponent.  


“As friends and teammates, you can’t say enough about it,” Zusi said. “Matt and I still talk on a weekly basis and it goes far beyond soccer. It’s something that I’ve treasured throughout my career.”


As for the game itself, Zusi’s availability is up in the air. He is in the final stages of gaining fitness after recovering from a long-term foot injury that has sidelined him since last October. Zusi’s next regular season appearance would see him pass Besler for the most in club history at 295.


Whether Zusi plays or not, Sporting can expect a tough test from an Austin outfit that has won two of its first three matches away from home this season. The team is notably led by head coach Josh Wolff and assistant Davy Arnaud, both of whom were Kansas City legends in their own rights as players.


“I know Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud and I know the style they want to play,” Zusi said. “They want to build out of the back and to be honest, it’s pretty similar to what we do here in Kansas City. I’m impressed by how young the team is and how they’ve put together a solid roster with some really good experience via Matt (Besler) and (Alexander) Ring. As far as expansion teams go, I think they’ll be one of the better ones in the history of the league. It’s a very dangerous team.”


Sunday’s clash is set for 6:30 p.m. CT with radio broadcasts on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM. A limited number of tickets for the contest are available at SeatGeek.com while supplies last.

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