Jul 3, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT
Writer Michael Appelgate, a 2013 graduate of DePauw University (Greencastle, Ind.), is currently an arts & entertainment writer for the Salt Lake Tribune. A native of Kent, Wash., Appelgate is a diehard Seattle sports fan and a huge fan of the Oregon Ducks basketball court.
Matt Besler used to watch highlights of Thierry Henry and David Beckham in the basement of his home in Overland Park, Kansas.
But in 2011, he played along side the two soccer legends in the MLS All–Star game. Since then he has piled on a few more top moments in his young professional career. The 2009 Notre Dame graduate and former men’s soccer team standout is now a regular face on the U.S. men’s national team. He’s tallied five starts for the U.S after earning his first cap against Mexico, March 26, in a 0-0 draw.
Besler, 26, has started on the back line for four straight games (all wins for the U.S.), and the defense shut out the last two games against Panama and Honduras.
“It’s definitely a different level because there’s a lot more pressure,” Besler said. “The pressure was a lot greater than anything I ever felt. The preparation is always the same. I try and stay calm and go about my business like I usually do.”
Besler’s soccer prowess can be traced all the way back to his high school days at Blue Valley West. The left-footer re-wrote the school’s record book and claimed a 5A Kansas state title his senior year, and committed to a Notre Dame program primed for its greatest success. In Besler’s sophomore year, the Fighting Irish went to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in its history. The next year, they did it again.
Besler said he’s proud of the team today, which just copped its first No. 1 overall seed to the tournament last fall.
It’s more meaningful to him because his brother Nick, now a junior, is a consistent starter in head coach Bobby Clark’s midfield.
“You set the expectation high, and this group of guys who are there now, they picked up where we left off,” Besler said. “They just have to continue to work hard and be the first team to make it over the hump and get to the final four and a national title.”
Following his senior year where Besler received All-American honors along with his third All-BIG EAST Team distinction, he was drafted eighth overall in the MLS SuperDraft by the then-Kansas City Wizards.
“It’s a blessing for me and for my family, especially my parents,” he said. “They were probably more excited than I was that I got an opportunity to play back in Kansas City.”
Besler made an immediate impact for the Wizards, starting all but two games in his 2009 rookie season.
Via a fan vote in 2011, he played in the MLS All-Star game. The appearance was most likely due to his ticket sales effort in the now-Sporting Kansas City front office.
BESLER’S NOTRE DAME DEGREE BEING PUT TO GOOD USE
The star-studded MLS lineup didn’t phase Besler, who treated the game like business as usual. But after the match he said he realized how lucky he was to be playing professionally with the top players in the world like Henry and Beckham.
“You almost want to put it behind you and move on to the next game and to the next accomplishment that you’re trying to get,” Besler said. “Ultimately, my goal is to become one of them. I want to reach where they’re at in their careers at some point, and maybe someone comes along and they’re able to say they’ve played with me.”
Last August, Besler scored a key penalty kick against the Seattle Sounders to win Kansas’ first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. He was also named the MLS Defender of the Year. In December, he re-signed for three more years with Sporting KC.
BESLER’S PENALTY KICK IN U.S. OPEN FINAL
Amidst the MLS success and international team appearances, perhaps the most special moment was when in January he anchored the U.S. team’s defense with fellow Notre Dame soccer alum, Justin Morrow, in a friendly against Canada.
“Having Justin there, he was playing left back and I was playing left center back — we were playing right next to each other the whole game,” Besler said. “We were very happy and proud to be representing Notre Dame during that game.”
Sporting a 4-1-1 record thus far in World Cup Qualifying, Besler said the team’s confidence is high riding the five-match undefeated streak.
“With Tim Howard behind us directing us and giving us a lot of information, he’s been a great leader for us,” Besler said. “Overall we’re in a very good spot and I’m excited to continue to play with those guys.”
Besler and the United States men’s national team takes back to the pitch for World Cup Qualifying on Sept. 6 when they take on Costa Rica.
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