In many ways, Sporting Kansas City’s hard-earned 1-0 win over Minnesota United FC on Sunday was cathartic. The result snapped a four-game winless run, vaulted the club back to first place in the Western Conference and steadied the proverbial ship ahead of another crowded juncture in the MLS schedule.
It also gave Manager Peter Vermes’ side the deserved three points, as Sporting dominated the Loons from wire to wire.
Captain Matt Besler reflected on the performance this morning in his customary appearance on Sports Radio 810 WHB with Border Patrol hosts Nate Bukaty and Steven St. John. The center back anchored a stout defensive effort in which Sporting limited Minnesota to zero shots on target—the first time the Loons had ever finished an MLS match without an attempt on goal.
“We deserved the three points and a few more goals, for sure,” Besler said. “The team did a really good job staying the course. In the first half we played well and had a ton of shots. You come into halftime and you feel like you’ve got to change things around because you didn’t get your goal, but a lot of times you actually have to do the opposite.
“You don’t want to change up what you’ve been doing because it’s been working. We had been creating all of those opportunities to score, and that’s exactly what we did. We came back in the second half and stuck to our game plan. We continued to execute how we had been in the first half, and we were rewarded with a goal.”
The breakthrough came at the 80-minute mark when veteran Graham Zusi—Besler’s teammate at Sporting for the last 12 seasons—floated a brilliant long ball over the top for Johnny Russell to chase and finish past Loons goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair. It was Sporting’s 21st shot attempt of the night and ultimately separated the sides in the 1-0 decision.
Zusi tallied his 81st assist for Sporting in all competitions on the play. His 28 game-winning assists are the eighth-most in MLS regular season history and second-most among active players. Besler and Zusi both began their professional careers in Kansas City as 2009 draft picks and have since become best friends as the faces of Sporting during a decade that has yielded four major club championships and a 2014 World Cup appearance with the U.S.
“Graham doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Besler said. “He’s one of the best all-around players that I’ve ever seen or played with. He’s got everything to his game. He’s a complete soccer player. When you talk about technical ability, passing, shooting, speed, talent, an incredible engine—he’s got all of that. You can talk about the intangibles, too. He’s durable and consistent. He’s got everything you’d want in a soccer player, so we have been lucky to have him for so long here in Kansas City. I’m blessed to have been his teammate for so long, and we’ve had some great memories on the field together.”
Besler was also extremely complimentary of Sporting’s Academy products, namely Gianluca Busio, Cam Duke, Felipe Hernandez and Jaylin Lindsey—all of whom have played instrumental roles over the last month as Sporting has kept hold of first place in the West.
“The position that we’re in says a lot about our team as a whole with the culture that we have,” Besler said. “It’s also credit to the guys who have been playing. Those young guys have taken more responsibility and they’ve run with it. They deserve a lot of credit given the situation. It’s amazing to take a step back and really think about what’s going on right now with our team. There’s teenagers playing in the middle of the field in Major League Soccer.
“The middle of the field is where the game is won or lost a lot of times. That’s where you want your experienced guys and your veterans. For these young guys to come in and control the game at times, to win balls, to have the composure to dictate the passing game, it’s so impressive to watch. We’re in a really good spot as a team and we’ve just got to keep going.”
Sporting will return to Children's Mercy Park on Saturday as the next phase of the club's regular season campaign begins against FC Dallas at 2:30 p.m. CT. FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO will provide three hours of live coverage on Saturday, while Univision and TUDN will air a national telecast in Spanish. Listeners can also catch the action locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM, with The Final Whistle postgame show immediately afterward on 810 WHB.
A limited number of tickets for Saturday's contest are available at SeatGeek.com while supplies last. Sporting's next two home games on Sept. 19 and 23 will be held at a reduced capacity of 18% with comprehensive health and safety protocols in place.