Sporting Kansas City defender Graham Zusi said it best during his weekly appearance on Sports Radio 810 WHB this morning with Border Patrol hosts Nate Bukaty and Steven St. John.
“It seemed like a written script.”
The script Zusi was referring to, of course, was the one that unfolded in storybook fashion Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park. In one emotion-filled match for the ages against Austin FC, each of the following happened.
For starters, Zusi returned from a long-term foot injury for his first appearance in almost exactly seven months. It was his first match in front of a substantial crowd at Children’s Mercy Park in well over a year.
Secondly, Zusi was poised for his record-breaking 295th regular season appearance in a Sporting uniform. In an incredible twist of fate, the player he was passing for first place on the all-time charts was his longtime teammate and best friend, Matt Besler—who was suiting up on the opposite sideline as a member of Austin FC.
Thirdly, Sporting found themselves down 1-0 heading into the final 10 minutes before staging a wild rally to win 2-1 with late goals from Ilie Sanchez and Gadi Kinda.
“The emotions started completely out of the blue as I was driving to the stadium, Zusi said. “I was getting off the exit to Children’s Mercy Park and it kind of hit me right there. I knew this was going to be an emotional night coming back, but that moment caught me on the way to the game.
“Jogging out for warmups and seeing the fans in the seats, from that vantage point it was a moment where I got pretty emotional as well. You never know what it’s going to be like until you step out on the field and it’s been such a long journey back. I definitely want to give a shout to the medical staff who helped get an old guy like me back on the field.”
Zusi and Sporting’s technical staff had agreed before the game that he would only play 45 minutes, but the 34-year-old right back felt good enough to go an extra nine minutes in the second period before being subbed off to a strong ovation from the crowd. The hosts trailed by one goal at the time but thoroughly dominated proceedings, especially once Austin FC’s Alex Ring picked up a second yellow card in the 67th minute. From there, Sporting struck in the 82nd and 90th minutes to snag a massive victory.
“The wins when you come from behind do a heck of a lot for a team’s mentality,” Zusi said. “To know that late in the game you can grind out the three points—not only tie the game up but end up winning, as well—I think that says a lot about the group. The guys who came on provided a nice spark in the game and the red card situation seemed to help a bit as well. We created so many really good chances throughout the game, I thought we deserved to be up anyway.”
On a night full of emotions, Zusi said the best moment was gathering with Besler after the match in front of the Members Stand on the north side of Children’s Mercy Park.
“Playing against Matt was a weird feeling, to be honest,” Zusi said. “We talked about it a little bit after the game. Matt is a guy you always want to be on the same side as. He’s still an incredible player and I thought he actually had a really good game. I’ve talked about his soccer IQ, his athletic ability, his technical ability. He’s a smart, calm, collected player.”
He continued: “I actually had no idea about breaking Matt’s (regular season appearance) record until I was told after the game. I guess it seems fitting, but in terms of that record, I said it after the game: with me and Matt’s legacy at Sporting, that record should be shared between us—whether I play 100 more games for Sporting or not. Our journey together says a lot more.
“There’s no me without him and you could probably say vice versa.”
On the heels of Sunday’s instant classic, Zusi and Sporting face a quick turnaround by visiting rivals Houston Dynamo FC at 7:30 p.m. CT on 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 in addition to airing locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.