When the U.S. plays Belgium in the knockout round of the World Cup soccer tournament Tuesday, three female Kansas City soccer players plan to watch the match together.
They’ll be paying extra attention to Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler. The three women have a connection with the Overland Park, Kan., native that stretches back a few years.
Most of the attention on soccer lately has focused on the action in Brazil, but the day before the U.S. match against Portugal, Jen Buczkowski took care of her own business on the soccer field.
Buczkowski is a midfielder for FCKC, the women’s professional soccer team in Kansas City. She scored the game’s only goal in FCKC’s victory over the Chicago Red Stars. The next day Buczkowski and two of her FCKC teammates, Melissa Henderson and Mandy Laddish, packed themselves among the other soccer fans at McFadden’s, an Irish sports bar in the Power & Light district. That’s fitting. All three played soccer for the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame. The same school where Matt Besler played. Buczkowski says she and Besler briefly crossed paths there.
“I knew Matt through playing. We hung out and stuff,” said Buczowski. “The men’s and women’s teams just really got along well together.”
Mandy Laddish is from Lee’s Summit and in her first year with FCKC. She’s better acquainted with Matt’s brother, Nick.
“I’m actually pretty good friends with Nick,” said Laddish. “I was with him there for three years, so I know Nick very well. Nick’s been watching the World Cup from South Bend, Indiana, where he’s a senior. Maybe it’s a little different for me because I get to see Nick and how proud he is of his brother,” Laddish added. “I just feel that radiating from him and his family, which is awesome.”
When they watched the U.S. take the lead late in the game against Portugal, the three of them celebrated with the estimated 10,000 others who had gathered in the Power & Light district. Like everyone else, they thought the U.S. was on its way to a victory.
Henderson says she felt pride to see Besler and the Americans make an impact on the world scene.
“Obviously you’re cheering for the entire team, but there’s a special connection with that one person and you’re just praying for him and hoping for the best,” said Henderson.
But all of that was suspended in disbelief when Portugal tied the match with 30 seconds left in the added time. Mandy Laddish said she felt devastated.
“But being through that multiple times as an athlete you’re know that they’re thinking, ‘All right. Now we’ve got to get it right. That’s over.’”
In the next match, the U.S. lost against Germany, 1-0, but because of the result between Ghana and Portugal, the U.S. advanced to the round of 16.
For this game, a little green will be mixed in with the red, white and blue in the Power and Light district.