SAO PAULO – His record on the international stage is nearly unblemished, just one loss marring his career as a US national team starter. He’s a member of the defending MLS Cup champions, arguably the league’s best defender.
But four years ago, when the USMNT were in South Africa battling their way to the knockout stage, Matt Besler was watching from the Power & Light district with thousands of other Kansas City residents, a reserve defender on a Sporting KC team that would eventually miss the playoffs.
Four years later, Besler finds himself not only on the brink of a World Cup in which he is a member of the US team, but also almost certainly a lock to start in central defense for Jurgen Klinsmann.
“For me, it’s just been about the attitude during the whole process of always wanting more,” Besler said in a press conference here Tuesday, a week before the US' opening match of the 2014 World Cup. “Having that desire to always be wanting to achieve the next thing.
“When you get in your first cap, it’s great and it’s a big moment, but after the game it’s what’s next. You make the World Cup team and it’s great moment in your career, but then it’s what’s next. It’s the Ghana match. It’s just having that attitude of wanting to achieve the next thing in your career.”
And with both Sporting KC and the national team, the 27-year-old has achieved more and more as the victories and caps piled up.
Earning the MLS Defender of the Year award for 2012 got him on Klinsmann’s radar, and the Kansas City native now wears the armband for his club with another star above the crest thanks in large part to the work he’s put in with MLS’ stingiest backline.
And while his USMNT career may have gotten off to an inauspicious start in January 2013 alongside Omar Gonzalez in a scoreless draw against Canada, he’s 12-1-2 as a starter since that dour draw at BBVA Compass Stadium. His lone loss come against Costa Rica in San José during Hexagonal play last September.
After being introduced to the Hexagonal in a 0-0 draw vs. El Tri in Mexico City, Besler started six of the final eight qualifying matches as well, missing out on Mexico in Columbus because of suspension and the finale in Panama once a place in Brazil was secured.
With five starts through six USMNT matches so far during 2014, the lone absence coming in early March as a largely European-based squad was called up to face Ukraine, his place in the XI against Ghana on June 16 in Natal appears rock solid as well.
This after making just 10 MLS starts during his second professional season in 2010. This after Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes wondered publicly if Besler was hard enough to play center back in MLS, a challenge that was answered quickly during a breakout 2011 season.
All part of growing into himself as a player, according to Besler.
“There’s never been one moment where I felt that you arrived or a turning point. For me, it’s been more of a process,” he said. “There are certain things that you’ll always remember like a first cap or a first qualifier or MLS Cup. There are certain games that you’ll definitely remember. There is never one thing that’s really a turning point.”
No doubt the Americans' opening match against the Black Stars will fall into that category of memorable moments, but don’t expect Besler to be completely gobsmacked by the moment.
He re-signed with Sporting in the offseason, spurning interest from Queens Park Rangers and Birmingham City to stay in Kansas City, because he wanted to be in the best environment possible to be primed for success on the world stage.
And now, after watching from afar as the US made a run to the knockout stage in what seems like a lifetime ago, Besler will represent his city, his club, his country in Brazil while Kansas City fans gather at Power & Light to watch their native son tackle the Group of Death.
“We’ve put a lot of work in to everything the last year, the last two years – especially with the preparation camp the last three weeks,” he said. “As a group, everyone is definitely ready to be down here and ready to play our first match against Ghana.”