Sporting Kansas City Defender Matt Besler reflects on his time with Notre Dame, USMNT
Jamison Cook | Thursday, September 19, 2019
After a freshman season spent mostly on the bench with infrequent playing time, Matt Besler was determined to make sure his sophomore season at Notre Dame would be different. When head coach Bobby Clark approached him about switching to the center back position following an injury to an upperclassman, Besler, who had always played as a midfielder or forward, jumped on the opportunity. Little did he know that the transition would transform his life.
Almost 15 years later, Besler is in the midst of his 11th season with Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City, a club with which he has spent his entire career as a defender. He has made 47 appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team, the most notable being the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where he was a starting center back under coach Jürgen Klinsmann. But for Besler, a common thread throughout all his success has been the foundation he established during his time at Notre Dame.
“Notre Dame prepared me for the real world and for a career in professional soccer,” Besler said. “I’m obviously biased, but for me, I don’t think there’s a better place to prepare young individuals for the real world.”
While Notre Dame may have left a lasting impact on Besler, he made sure to leave his own mark on the University’s soccer program. Over the course of his career in South Bend, Besler made 90 appearances for the Irish, starting in 73 games. He only scored five goals in his college career, but his contributions defensively helped the team reach the NCAA tournament during all four of his years with the Irish. As a senior, Besler became the first player in program history to be named a First Team All-American and a First Team Academic All-American. He was also named the NSCAA 2008 Senior College Men’s Scholar All-America Player of the Year, an award given to a student athlete who maintains a 3.3 GPA while also starting over 50% of all games and making significant contributions to his team. Besler believes that it is the high expectations and spirit of competition that exists at Notre Dame that pushed him to be so successful.
“I came into Notre Dame as a freshman similar to how most freshman at Notre Dame came in: I had some success in high school, well-rounded, involved in a bunch of activities, but then when you get to Notre Dame you realize that everyone else around you is the exact same way,” he said. “It’s extremely competitive, but I think that competitiveness really brings out the best in people. For me, both academically and in soccer, it was no different.”
Following his career at Notre Dame, Besler was invited to the MLS combine, and afterwards was drafted eighth overall by Sporting Kansas City in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. He has spent his entire 11-year career with the club and has earned honors such as Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 to go along with five MLS All-Star Game selections. But the highlight of his soccer career post-Notre Dame has been the time he has spent with the U.S. national team.
“Every kid that grows up playing soccer probably dreams about playing in the World Cup … representing your country, but to be honest, I never thought that I would ever get the chance to be one of those players,” he said. “Just very grateful and fortunate that I had that opportunity, definitely one of the highlights of my career if not the highlight.”
Besler believes the support shown for the national team is similar to that displayed for the Irish.
“There’s a lot of pride at Notre Dame. I believe that’s what makes Notre Dame so special because when people see the ND, when they see Irish, they feel something, and they feel strongly about it,” Besler said. “In a way, it’s similar to when you put on that national team jersey for the first time.”
For the time being, Besler traded in the U.S. jersey for the Sporting Kansas City one, and his team will need him to be at the top of his game as they look to make a final playoff push over the final four games of the MLS season. Regardless of how many trophies Besler wins or All-Star appearances he makes, he said not much will compare to his experiences with the national team and with Notre Dame.
“I think it just all comes full circle when you experience a moment like I did representing my country, and like I said, Notre Dame is still such a big part of my life,” he said. “I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience four years at Notre Dame, and I would recommend everybody that goes there just try to take advantage of it because it is such a special place.”