On Sunday night, Sporting Kansas City had a magical come from behind victory over MLS expansion side Austin FC. That was just one of the stories playing out that night. The other was the return of the former Captain and hometown hero, Matt Besler.
Taken in the first round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by the then Kansas City Wizards, Besler would go on to play 11 seasons for Kansas City before his time with the team came to an end following the 2020 season. A season when Matt didn’t get to play in front of full stadium, or play much at all for that matter. Besler played just 10 matches (nine starts), the least of any season in his MLS career (in an admittedly COVID-19 shortened season).
To hear it from Besler, it’s “what disappointed [him] most was not having the chance to play in front of you one last time.” On the heels of the 2-1 loss to SKC, the now Austin FC center back came over to The Kansas City Cauldron supporter’s section and gave them a jersey with “Thank You” written on the back, along with a letter.
In an email to Cauldron members today, they published that letter and with their permission, I’m sharing it with you.
To the Cauldron, South Stand, and all of SKC Nation,
Late last year when I was informed I no longer had a future playing for SKC, I was heartbroken. What disappointed me most was not having the chance to play in front of you one last time, or to say goodbye the right way.
I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed playing for you. Representing my hometown was an absolute honor, and a responsibility I never took lightly. Through all the wins, draws, and losses, I tried to defend and protect Kansas City with all I’ve got.
Although things didn’t end the way I expected them to, nothing can take away the 12 years we shared we created some unforgettable memories that will last forever.
There will certainly be a time and place to look back and celebrate those memories together and I look forward to that day.
In time, I hope to express my gratitude and appreciation towards you with more than this pen and paper can.
Until then, best of luck and keep cheering on your players with the same energy and passion you always showed me.
Also drafted in that 2009 MLS SuperDraft was another future Sporting Legend, Graham Zusi. He was taken 15 picks later, as the 23rd overall selection by the Wizards. It’s fitting of course, after a game in which Graham Zusi passed Besler as the all-time appearance leader in Kansas City history, that the two former teammates and former housemates, exchanged jerseys.
Zus and Bes.— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) May 10, 2021
That's the tweet. pic.twitter.com/zocaFqPOHq
Also as a part of the email from The Cauldron was a story by former Cauldron President Sean Dane. With Sean and the Cauldron’s permission, it felt right to share it with all of you here.
It started with a road trip.
The 2009 MLS Superdraft was held in St. Louis. Cauldron members had been organizing 10’s of people via Big Soccer* to make the treacherous journey across the state. We headed into the hostile territory of the St Louigans. We would sing songs about how terrible their city was, remind them they had no team, and welcome our newest players to the finest club in the land.
I can’t remember everyone that made the trip. There were a few KC supporters that lived in St. Louis. I cruised with George Shook and my roommate Jeff Szajnuk. Others caravanned with us. The Weymouths sat in the front row of our section as was to be expected. Rob Heineman, who had become the President of the team a couple of years earlier, stopped and asked me who we should draft. I made a smart-ass comment about drafting Jeff. We sipped our beers, joking about being professional soccer players. Louligans. They sang back at us, and [with] the 8th [pick] of the draft, we select Matt Besler from Notre Dame University. We cheered as if we won the World Cup. Matt pointed to us. We cheered more. A few beers later, we draft Graham Zusi, and we cheered again.
As in all things, it’s easy to look back with clarity. We got more than just a defender that day. We got someone that represented the ideals so many of us had. The dreams we had been preaching to anyone who would listen during the team’s sale to On Goal. To the cities, we were trying to convince to build a soccer-specific stadium. A Kansas City kid. A kid who had grown up in Overland Park. He played for a local High School, Local Club team, and now had come home as a professional and help lead the future of the Wizards. He was one of us.
For many, the gravity of last night’s game may have been lost. On the sideline, you had Vermes leading Sporting with Kerry Zavagnin sitting next to him. Both had played for Kansas City and brought us the MLS Cup in 2000. Josh Wolff heads the Austin side with Davy Arnaud seated next to him. Both had spent the bulk of their careers with Kansas City across their chest. Both had played for Peter as Technical Director, and both were on our team when Matt Besler and Graham Zusi were drafted that day. For those who have been around watching all of them play for us in cavernous Football Stadiums, Minor League Baseball Stadiums, and High School athletics complexes, it was a moment of reflection.
Matt will always represent so much of what this club and its supporters are about. He has been at the center as the Wizards matured into Sporting KC. He lead us into the Sporting Park. The home so many had dreamt of. He is the Player that grew up watching games in Arrowhead, knows Dynamo, and probably used a Zard Card. Matt carried himself with the pride of Kansas City. The pride we all have in our city.
We watched Matt become a man as the Cauldron matured and evolved. We stood behind him as he became our Captain. We felt his frustration when things did not go our way, and we felt his joy when they did.
I won’t speak for everyone that was around in those days. They all have plenty to say on their own. Just ask.
I will always be thankful that Peter drafted Matt. I will always be appreciative that Matt showed an entire generation of youth players in this city that they can also wear the crest of their hometown on their heart as a professional. The future of the game is there in those kids that he inspired. And for all of that and so much more, Matt will always be our Hometown Hero.
The nature of sports is change. Nothing can stop that. Unfortunately, this all happened at a time we had to be distanced. At a time, we could not have a going away party or proper sendoff.
I wanted to write this because it’s essential to know our history. It’s vital to understand the bond we have as supporters, both new and old. Just as the men on that field represented the team’s history, you are part of the history in the stands. You are writing history every game. We must continue to build just as we have, just as Matt did.
Watching Matt take the time last night to show his thanks to everyone in the stand was a moment of class. It was a moment that touched me. Please take a moment to reflect as you read this letter from him.
Thank you for everything.
It’s not the last time Besler will take the field in Kansas City. Austin FC returns on June 12th for an afternoon game and it’s likely Besler will start in central defense again. While it’s hard to see him playing in another jersey, it’s good to see a legend on the field a few more times.