It has been quite a week for Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler. It began last Wednesday when he lifted the trophy at the end of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final following Kansas City’s championship victory in penalty kicks, 3-2, over the Seattle Sounders after extra time finished 1-1. His effort at the heart of the KC backline earned him TheCup.us Player of the Round honor.
Four days after winning the championship, the former Notre Dame star received his first call-up to the US national team for the team’s friendly against Mexico at Azteca Stadium – a match that, although he did not play in, proved to be a historic night as the United States picked up its first-ever victory south of the border, 1-0.
Besler becomes the first Kansas City player to earn the award since TheCup.us started honoring each round’s best player in 2006. The vote was extremely close and spread out as eight different players received votes, with Roger Espinoza, Kei Kamara and Seattle’s Zach Scott. Besler edged Espinoza for the award by a single vote.
The award is voted on by the staff of TheCup.us and a select panel of members from the North American Soccer Reporters.
Another first for Besler is that of the two Open Cup winning Kansas City teams (2004, 2012), he joins teammate Seth Sinovic as the only two Kansas City area natives to win the tournament with their hometown team.
The challenge in front of the KC defense was clear as their All-Star defender Aurelien Collin was unavailable for the Final due to yellow card accumulation, leaving the team with a gap to fill in central defense. The Sounders came into the game with plenty of offensive weapons with Eddie Johnson, Fredy Montero, Seattle’s leading scorer for the tournament, Osvaldo Alonso, and players like Sammy Ochoa coming off the bench who has scored three goals in the competition this year.
With all of those challenges, the defense, led by Besler, held strong, only allowing two shots on goal in 120 minutes of play as the championship was decided by penalty kicks. Jimmy Nielsen only had to make one save, and the Sounders’ lone goal came in the form of a header off a free kick by Zach Scott in the 86th minute that tied the game at 1-1.
To cap off his impressive performance on the field, Besler also converted one of the three penalty kicks in the shootout that allowed Kansas City to lift the trophy for the first time since 2004.
Besler has been a part of Sporting’s Open Cup history in the last few years, playing in all but one tournament game in the last four years.