Seth Sinovic has collected countless soccer jerseys throughout his life, but one in particular is his favorite: a Matt Besler Kansas City Wizards jersey. After an Major League Soccer regular season game in October 2010, Seth swapped jerseys with Matt. Seth was with the New England Revolution, and Matt was with the then-Kansas City Wizards. Less than a year later, in May 2011, Seth joined Matt at Sporting. They were teammates in Kansas City.
Matt’s Wizards jersey, now belonging to Seth, is actually a tangible reminder of just how few games they’ve played apart. How far they’ve come. From 2011 to now, in their hometown Kansas City, they’ve worn all the same Sporting Kansas City kits — No. 5 for Matt, No. 15 for Seth, both defenders. They’ve won three U.S. Open Cup trophies and one MLS Cup together.
But — and this is where that “again” comes into play — it’s their history together prior to MLS that’s most rich. The stories stretch through an entire childhood, from first grade to senior year of high school, when the two played club soccer together for KCFC Alliance.
Below are some of the most memorable moments from Matt and Seth’s childhoods, all because of soccer, in their own words.
How might the experience growing up in club soccer in the Midwest be different than anywhere else in the United States?
Matt: Just the settings where we would play soccer. I imagine it’s completely different than anywhere else. I’m imagining California was not like this or the New York-New Jersey area or Chicago, wherever else. Most of our games, most of our tournaments would be at a big state park out in the middle of nowhere because that’s where the land was cheap. It always seemed like a new complex. The city’s initiative or the state-sponsored park. Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Illinois. Many games were played right next to a cornfield. As a kid, I never thought twice about that. That was the norm, but if I drove to a soccer tournament now and literally right next to the field was lined with corn, I would look over and be like, ‘Where the heck am I right now? I feel like I’m in ‘Field of Dreams.’”
But that was the typical setting. Another thing, too, was the weather. We had it all. Hail, thunder, lightning, humidity, heat, snow, anything and everything. You could say one of those conditions, and I could tell you a story about how I played soccer in it. That’s something that we have that nobody else has.
I remember one tournament specifically, we were playing in Wichita, Kansas, and we were staying overnight in a hotel. Just like a standard Holiday Inn or something, but I remember vividly we were sharing a room with one of my teammates, and the tornado sirens were going off. And we were about to head to our game. My parents made us go back to our room, and me and my teammate — and actually my younger brother — we got down in the bathtub of our hotel room, which I can say that doesn’t happen in other parts of the country when you’re in a soccer tournament.
Matt, word around here at States is that Seth was an extreme competitor growing up. Let’s dig up some specific examples of that.
Matt: Seth was one of the most competitive kids I've ever seen. And when you're a kid, that usually means you're a poor sport and sore loser. Fortunately for our team, we didn't lose very often. But the one or two times a year we did lose, Seth's reaction wasn't pretty. To be fair, everyone on our team should be considered a sore loser, but Seth stood out from most of us. After a loss, it would be a miracle just to get him to calm down enough to make it through the handshake line at midfield. There he was, always at the end, with his shirt pulled over his eyes — wiping away tears. Sometimes he would start to lose it before the game even ended. I guess the fear of losing had that big of an impact on him.
It wasn't just soccer either. It was everything. We played on the same baseball team for a few years as well. And again, we didn't lose many games, so when we did — or when Seth didn't get on base — it would be a major challenge for him to show good sportsmanship. Despite this, Seth was always someone you wanted on your team. In soccer, we always knew we had a chance to win when Seth was on the field — standing at half-field as a forward, waiting to score.
Favorite tournaments and memories as a kid growing up in the States?
Matt: There’s a couple tournaments. There was — it was called Winter Magic. A local tournament here in Kansas City, and it was an indoor tournament. It was always just so fun. Indoor is fun because you can just play so many games against different teams. We always looked forward to that one. What was cool about that was if you made it to the finals, you got to play at Kemper Arena where the Kansas City Attack played at the time. That was like the ultimate goal for us. We were fortunate enough to make it almost every year it seemed like. We got to play under the bright lights and in the huge Kemper Arena, and we felt like professionals playing on that full-size field. Those are some of the best memories that I have as far as a tournament goes.
There was also the England trip. We were all in eighth grade, and our club team got the chance to go over to England for a week and just experience the culture. We got to play against a bunch of different teams. We played against Liverpool, Leicester City and Crystal Palace. At the time, we didn’t really understand how lucky we were to get that opportunity when you’re in eighth grade to get to go over to England. Looking back on it, it was a special trip. It was a really fun, cool experience for us to do at such a young age because we got to see what it was like to visit the country that soccer was the main sport. We thought we were pretty good — a team from Kansas City — but I believe we lost to Liverpool, 7-1. We got our butts kicked, but we came back to Kansas City more humbled. So, in the end I think it served us well.
Seth: My favorite tournament was always Regionals. To qualify for Regionals, you had to win your state championship. I think we qualified all but one year. Maybe? Anyway, I always loved this tournament because I loved the competition and the stakes that came with it. I think I can speak for Matt when saying it’s always fun playing the best competition possible. The satisfaction from winning a hard-fought game against a difficult opponent is such a great feeling.
Unfortunately we never won the tournament, but one of my favorite memories comes from our last time there. We had a rough start to the tournament and to advance we had to beat the state champion from Michigan — the Metrostars. This team that was full of Division I commits was winning our group in pool play at the time, and for us to advance, we needed to win by five or more goals. What seemed like an insurmountable task at the time became more and more realistic one goal at a time. A game we won 6-1 to advance, it was one of my favorite games we had as a club team.
Something mischievous you guys did that still makes you laugh today? Maybe while away at one of those tournaments?
Matt and Seth: A favorite memory from a tournament took place at the Cincinnati Blue Chip college showcase tournament. We were juniors in high school. Taking place in an invitation-only tournament for the best teams in the region to show our talents to any college coaches that would come was a huge opportunity to get noticed and draw interest for those that wanted to play in college. Matt even skipped prom to be able to go. It was rare for all of us to gather for dinner while on the road — something like 30 of us including players and families. But on this trip, naturally for one of our pre-game meals, we ate at Buffalo Wild Wings. It was located right next to the hotel we were staying at, so we just walked over. Adding to our list of poor choices, we decided to have a wing eating contest. If memory serves well Daniel (one of States’ co-founders) won the contest with something like 57 wings eaten (Seth ate in the 50s, while Matt’s not a big wing guy and tapped out around 15).
But glory was short-lived. Shortly after exiting the restaurant, most of us threw up. With a big game taking place the next day, our meal did not serve us well. I’m pretty sure that was one of the worst games we’ve ever played, and it finished with a very loud, very disappointed postgame speech from our head coach. Our head coach was from Wales, and he was so upset that he said, “This is something that would only happen in America!” While it wasn’t the smartest thing we’ve ever done, it’s something we still look back on today and laugh.
How did you incorporate soccer into your everyday life?
Seth: We did get into quite a bit of trouble at home as well. One memory that comes to mind was a challenge that ended up having consequences a young kid could not possibly foresee. Being the competitive kids we were, we always looked for a challenge — a one-up or just to flat out prove someone wrong. After a long day of soccer in the Sinovic backyard, Daniel and I were arguing about something, which if you knew us growing up, we were the best of friends but still found ourselves at odds about many things. The conversation took a turn, and I bet him he couldn’t kick and hit the second-story window of his house with a soccer ball. With a facial expression of “I’ll show you,” Daniel stepped right up and rifled a ball perfectly in the middle of the window. Naturally it shattered into a million pieces and many words came to mind for the both of us: grounded, trouble, money, parents. And all of those words came to fruition. While we probably didn’t know it at the time, these memories that led to some consequences are probably some of our favorite ones years later that we can all sit back and laugh at now.
Matt: We had four kids on our club team all within, like, six houses of each other, which I think is very rare. Seth and Daniel, they shared yards, (along with other boys from the team sharing yards), and none of them had fences. And so, it was like this hot spot of three open yards for all of us to play. That was kind of the hub of our club team was those backyards. What would happen, to get the most people over there as possible, Seth would invite somebody over. Daniel would invite somebody over. Andrew would invite somebody over, and so would Matt E. We felt like we were tricking our parents by only asking one person to come over, but at the end of the day, we ended up having eight kids. … It was really fun. We always had extremely competitive games. We always ended up playing this game — we called it Wembley, but I’ve also heard it called World Cup. Because we only had one goal — it was one of those kickbacks. A flat goal.
Seth: I remember we would play a game we called “World Cup,” which was basically every man for himself trying to score on the same goal. If we had enough players we would have teams of two with the same final concept: score. Once you or your team scored, you would step off to the side and wait for the next round. Last team to score in each round would be out, and then the next round would start. The process would continue until a winner was determined. We would play all day. We couldn’t get enough of it. I still remember one year for the Fourth of July, my parents had a backyard barbecue with most of our close neighbors coming over. My dad actually made a mini soccer field, lines and all, for us kids play on. Whether it was a holiday or just another summer day, soccer was everything to us.
When Seth is not wearing No. 15 for Sporting, he’s wearing the coach’s hat. In the fall, he helps to coach the boys soccer team for Rockhurst High School — his alma mater. He gets to see right before him a new generation build lifelong memories on and around the soccer field. Their own version of what he built with Matt and Daniel, and what he’s still building with Matt.
How special it is for Matt and Seth to still be playing together — making memories because of this game. There are plenty of professional soccer players who have history together. Maybe they played against each other in college or are from the same town — played with each other for a couple of years.
But to have played with each other first for 11 years as children and seven years (and counting) as professionals? Endless road trips, tournaments, practices, games, team activities — you name it — for decades? There isn’t another pair that comes close. Not that Matt and Seth can think of anyway.
And now, they find themselves in a position to give back together to the sport and its community that’s given them so much, through States.
Written by Megan Armstrong