The Extra Mile: Why hometown hero Matt Besler earned Sporting Kansas City's captaincy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Matt Besler's selection as the first hometown captain in Sporting Kansas City's history has drawn plenty of attention, and rightfully so. After all, how many players go from being a ball boy to wearing the armband for the same club?

But that wasn't the reason the All-Star center back and US national team mainstay was chosen to replace the retired Jimmy Nielsen, manager Peter Vermes told fans when Besler's appointment was announced on Tuesday night.

“There's there's not a guy who's more committed to this team, and it's not just because he's from Kansas City,” Vermes said. “He truly personifies the quality of 'team first.' He'll do anything for the team, he's willing to go the extra mile and he's not looking for the publicity or the spotlight for himself.”

The 27-year-old Besler, who has been with Kansas City since the then-Wizards took him in the first round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, is the anchor of a defense that was the league's stingiest over the past two seasons – a stretch that saw them win the 2012 US Open Cup and last year's MLS Cup.

During the announcement festivities, as part of a question-and-answer session moderated by club president Robb Heineman, Besler acknowledged the role Vermes – who was a central defender on the 2000 team that won Kansas City's first MLS Cup – played in his development.

“Peter's one of the best coaches, if not the best coach, I've ever had,” Besler said. “He's been tough on me at times, but at the end of the day I shake his hand and I thank him for it, because it's made me a better player. It's made me a better person, a stronger person, and I'm happy to be chosen as his captain.”

He wouldn't have pushed Besler so hard, Vermes said, if he didn't believe in the defender's abilities.

“The serious side of it is, and I don't take pleasure in it, but I know that at times I was extremely hard on Matt,” Vermes said. “Not to be mean, but I've always seen the potential in him, in that he has qualities that are way beyond what he thought his potential was. To be a successful player in this league, and at his position, first of all you've got to be a tough guy.”

And while the captaincy is an honor, Besler told reporters after the announcement, it wasn't one he was taking for granted after Nielsen, now the manager of USL PRO expansion side Oklahoma City Energy FC, retired in December.

“Everyone knew here was a vacancy, and everyone knew that the team needed a new captain, but I honestly didn't think about it at all, in the offseason or even preseason,” Besler said. “My approach was to be myself and stay true to myself and try and lead, but I wasn't worried about being named captain.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.