KANSAS CITY, Mo. – From emergency fill-in to part of the oft-raised conversation at left back for the US national team?
Matt Besler isn't banking on that. But if it happens, and he keeps getting tapped for a position that has been notoriously hard to fill for the Nats, Sporting Kansas City's longtime mainstay in central defense won't object.
“Whatever gets me on the field,” Besler told reporters on Tuesday after returning from international duty at the Copa America Centenario, where he made one start at left back in a run-up friendly and another in the Yanks' 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Ecuador. “I'm here to try and help the team win, so if the coach believes in me at different positions, I'm going to be ready to play those.”
Besler held down the left side of central defense during the 2014 World Cup cycle, starting every match in Brazil. But Hertha Berlin's John Brooks was US coach Jurgen Klinsmann's first choice for the Copa Centenario and justified his selection with a run of strong and sometimes outstanding performances.
Still, Besler remains more in the picture as a center back than as a left back, where he played a few matches early in his professional career.
“I didn't train [at left back] at all,” he said on Tuesday. “I pretty much played center back while I was in camp. It was more of a fill-in role. I enjoyed it. At the end of the day, I had a job to do and I feel like I did my best to get the job done and help the team out, help the team get the win and advance. So whether or not I get more looks at that position, I have no idea, but I'm never going to change from the point that I'll always be ready to play wherever I'm needed.”
Moving outside had its enjoyable moments, Besler said, but also required him to see and play the game completely differently.
“Everything you do is an adjustment,” he said. “You're in different areas of the field when you receive the ball. You're in different areas of the field when you defend. I'm not used to losing the ball at all as a center back. You're not supposed to lose the ball. You're supposed to have very high passing percentages – whereas an outside back, that's not the case. It's OK to lose the ball. It's OK to dribble at people. It's OK to try to force a pass and cross the ball.
“So it felt different – and defending-wise, you can take more chances. You can try to go and win a ball 1-v-1, because if you get beat, there's people behind you to help.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.