Archive for Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kansas City native Besler savors new soccer stadium

June 15, 2011

— Matt Besler grew up watching Kansas City’s Major League Soccer team play in a large stadium.

That team was the Kansas City Wiz, and the venue was Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. It was the summer of 1996.

“That first season we had season tickets,” Besler recalls. “I was 9, so I remember going out to the parking lot like an hour before the game and just playing soccer at the Arrowhead parking lot. I’d get real sweaty before the game.

“I liked playing before the game more than watching the game. I was only 9, so that’s a good excuse.”

Plenty has changed since the inaugural MLS season in Kansas City. The franchise changed its name to the Kansas City Wizards; it won the MLS Cup Championship in 2000; it relocated to CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kan.

During that transition, much changed for Besler, too. The Overland Park native grew from a budding player to a local star. He guided Blue Valley West to the Class 5A state championship as a senior and then headed to Notre Dame where he became an All-American. In 2009, the Kansas City kid came home when the Wizards selected him eighth overall in the MLS SuperDraft.

On Thursday, Besler’s story came full circle as he once again saw Kansas City’s Major League Soccer team play in a large stadium. This time, however, Besler — a third-year starter on defense — was in the starting lineup for the franchise, now known as Sporting Kansas City, and the large stadium wasn’t a NFL football stadium or an independent minor league baseball park. It was the grand opening of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, Sporting Kansas City’s 18,467-seat soccer stadium.

“It was a dream to play for the organization. I honestly never even dreamed of playing in a stadium like this,” Besler said. “I would’ve never thought about it, but it’s a reality now. We’re beyond excited.”

For Besler, seeing the state-of-the-art stadium at standing-room-only capacity in his hometown was a bit overwhelming.

“I got chills probably four or five times before the opening whistle,” he admitted. “I had to do my best to kind of control my emotions and not get too hyped up before the game.”

As a fan-turned-player, Besler said he’s proud to be a part of the franchise during such a pivotal time in its history.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I’m so proud and happy to be playing for this team, playing for this city. And I’m really happy for the fans, because they get to enjoy something like the stadium out there.”

In fact, the only disappointment for Besler and Sporting Kansas City was the final score. Sporting tied the Chicago Fire 0-0.

While Besler said the team apologizes for not delivering a victory on opening night, he is confident victories will come soon with a supportive crowd behind the team.

“The fans have been waiting just as long as we have (for the stadium to open), and they did a fantastic job being loud, creating that electricity that we can draw on,” Besler said. “It was a really humid night so the fitness aspect was pretty tough, but they got us through the game.”

Sporting has 16 more home games this season after spending the first 10 games on the road. The extended home stand the last half of the season is something Besler said he welcomes.

“Oh, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “With an atmosphere like that, we’re going to get excited every time we play here, and we’re going to get those three points.”

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