[MLS SPOTLIGHT] What’s the key to Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler’s rapid rise from USA
debutant to national team regular?
One obvious attribute is that he plays well with others, no matter who those others might be. In a frantic schedule of club and national team games, in different countries and stadiums ranging from splendid to plain, adaptability is essential. In his brief national team career, Besler has shown he can play tough defense and use the ball smartly regardless of conditions.
“When I saw the success of Tim Ream with the national team, it was very evident to me that Bees had the same thing, and he actually had more of the defensive ability, as opposed to Tim,” says Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes, who drafted Besler No. 8 overall in the 2009 SuperDraft. “He’s progressed a long way and he’s starting to understand that he also needs to be more of a leader. That something that’s been growing with his time in the league and his time with us.”
This year Besler has been paired with Aurelien Collin and Ike Opara with Sporting Kansas City, and Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson for the national team. The USA centerback situation is so fluid he could also line up with Geoff Cameron, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Oguchi Onyewu or John Brooks, and SKC head coach Peter Vermes believes an array of defensive traits enables him to function efficiently regardless of partner or system.
“He’s been pretty consistent lately for them,” says Vermes of Besler’s stints with the national team, for which he’s played 10 matches (nine starts) starting with his January debut against Canada. “The good thing is he’s pretty easy to work with as a player next to you. He doesn’t try to take over but he works off the other guy. He knows how to use his strengths to make the partnership work.”
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann values Besler so much that after starting him in each of the June Hexagonal qualifiers, he brought him back for the knockout rounds of the Concacaf Gold and started him in all three games. Gonzalez was called in for the final two games, but sat out until the final minutes of the final when he replaced Alejandro Bedoya to help protect a 1-0 lead.
When the callup was announced, Besler said, “We’re on a roll right now and Jurgen said he hates to take me away from the team [SKC], but at the same time he said he’d like to have me come in, play in the Gold Cup and try to win the tournament.”
SKC teammate Graham Zusi was also on the preliminary list for Gold Cup duty, but Klinsmann selected only Besler. With Besler playing 255 of the 270 minutes, the USA outscored opponents, 9-2.
Vermes believes the heavy burden of travel and games has yet to take a serious toll on his players.
“All those guys have done a really good job with that,” says Vermes, who himself juggled club and country during his playing career that ended a decade ago. “It’s because they’re professional. They really are. Not everybody who plays the game is professional but him and Zusi are true professionals. They take what they do seriously and they’ve done well this far.”
In a 1-0 loss to San Jose last weekend, Besler faced USA teammates Chris Wondolowski and Goodson. Wondo scored the only goal when he cut inside right back Chance Myers to bury a header from a Steven Beitashour cross.
“I like playing against Wondo, he’s a challenge every time,” said Besler after the game. “His movement off the ball’s great, he finds himself in good spots. I enjoy battling with those guys and competing with them.
Still photographs revealed Wondo’s goal to be offside. When interviewed, Besler hadn’t seen the evidence, but nevertheless, he’d already put the result behind him and was starting to focus on a league match Friday night at Chicago.
“If that’s what it shows, it’s unfortunate,” said Besler. “But we have another tough game coming up.”
Vermes says he doesn’t need to give much counsel to the Notre Dame product who grew up in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park on the Kansas side. Prior to his senior debut in January, his only USA experience was a U-20 cap in 2006. He’s played 28 games for SKC and the USA this year without flinching; SKC is third in goals conceded with 25.
“The biggest thing I’ve always said to him is that you have to realize every opportunity you get with the national team is a real one and you can never take it lightly, because the time that you do somebody comes in and takes your spot,” says Vermes. “When you get your chance, you’ve got to be always on.”