Matt Besler got back to the U.S. team hotel after training on the eve of the United States’ World Cup qualifier at St. Vincent and the Grenadines when his cellphone came to life.
“I had a message from my wife just saying, call me ASAP, and I had that feeling that something was happening,” he said.
Back in Kansas City, Kansas, Amanda Besler felt her water break and went into labor two weeks early. On a Caribbean island, there was no way Matt Besler could return home quickly for the arrival of his first child.
Parker Rhea Besler was born at about 6:45 am local time Friday. About nine hours later her daddy scored his first international goal, helping the United States to a 6-0 win that moved the Americans into prime position to advance to the final round of World Cup qualifying.
“I always knew that it was a risk coming down here,” the 29-year-old Sporting Kansas City defender said. “At the same time, you have to live your life and come down here. There was about a 48-hour window where I knew that I was pretty much here and stuck here just due to the travel conditions. It would have been impossible to get back in time, and that’s why I decided to stay. I was just going to try to make the best of it, and I’ll get to meet my baby girl soon enough.”
Christian Pulisic, the Americans’ 17-year-old attacker, entered in the second half and scored twice off passes from Sacha Kljestan. Pulisic also set up Kljestan’s first goal for the national team in six years.
Bobby Wood scored in the 28th minute, Besler doubled the lead in the 32nd and Jozy Altidore converted a penalty kick in the 43rd as the Americans built a 3-0 halftime lead at the Arnos Vale cricket ground.
Besler, who has three goals for Kansas City since joining the team in 2009, was making his 36th international appearance. He scored when MLS teammate Graham Zusi lofted a free kick, and Nazir McBernette’s headed clearance attempt went toward the defender. Besler chested the ball and knocked it in with his left foot from about 4 yards.
“For whatever reason, I could feel the ball gravitate to me at the back post, so I was ready for it,” he said.
Besler was surrounded by a half dozen teammates in a rocking-the-cradle celebration reminiscent of Bebeto’s at the 1994 World Cup. He had told U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann on Friday morning that he was in the right frame of mind to play.
“It’s already a special day, but I wanted to even make it even more special and play in this special game,” he remembered saying.
The 26th-ranked United States (3-1-1) is second in Group C behind Trinidad and Tobago (3-0-2), which tied visiting Guatemala (2-2-1) later Friday. With a plus-13 goal difference to Guatemala’s plus-1, the Americans are virtually assured of reaching the final round hexagonal in North and Central America and the Caribbean when they host Trinidad on Tuesday at Jacksonville, Florida.
A T&T win Friday would have clinched berths for both the Soca Warriors and the Americans, but Carlos Ruiz got his second goal of the game in the 87th for visiting Guatemala, which finished a man short.
Pulisic and Kljestan entered midway through the second half. Pulisic scored in the 71st minute off a pass from Kljestan, who had not played for the national team since March 2014, and the 30-year-old Kljestan tapped in a cross from Pulisic seven minutes later. Pulisic scored from 18 yards off Kljestan’s pass in the second minute of stoppage time, his third international goal.
Pulisic became the youngest American with a goal in qualifying. At 17 years, 349 days, he also is the youngest with a two-goal game. He wore the No. 10 jersey — Landon Donovan’s old number — for the first time.
“Obviously it’s an honor,” Pulisic said. “I know some great number 10s have been out there, but I was just given the number, so I’m excited to wear it.
Klinsmann attributed the decision to equipment manager Jesse Bignami.
“I always say the number 10 has a meaning. There’s no doubt about it,” the coach said before adding with a laugh: “Ask him now a question how he feels with that heavy number on his back.”