BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, February 14, 2013
After a breakout season with Sporting Kansas City in 2012 which resulted into his first callups with the US national team, central defender Matt Besler has his sights set on greater success in 2013.
The year has already begun in strong fashion for Besler as he was invited to participate in the US team's Janaury Camp and earned his first cap in a 0-0 draw against Canada. He also inked a new deal with Sporting Kansas City that will keep him at his hometown team for the years ahead.
Now, Besler is in the middle or preseason camp with Sporting Kansas City who is expected to be a contender for the MLS Cup in 2013. Besler's stellar play in 2013 won him the award for MLS Defender of the Year and he knows that this year will also bring heightened expectations.
"I really have tried to keep the same approach," Besler told YA. "I think just now I have to add some responsibility. I'm not going to go out and worry about awards during the season. I'll let those take care of themselves. But I do feel some added responsibility."
A lot will be changing for Sporting Kansas City in 2013 as the club has undergone several changes since last season. In January the club saw starting midfielder Roger Espinoza leave to sign with Wigan in the Premier League as well as Kei Kamara leave on loan to Norwich. On the return end, the club added US national team midfielder Benny Feilhaber to help the offense.
In 2012, Kansas City won the Open Cup and finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference but bowed out early in the playoffs with a loss to Houston. Despite the roster turnover, Belser is confident that Sporting will remain a top team in the league.
"I don't want to say we're going to have a different style," Besler explained. "We're still going to keep our foundation the same with the high pressure, the 4-3-3 formation, and the fullbacks getting high up the field. Just some specifics will change since Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara are not there. We're probably going to keep the ball on the ground a lot more this year because we don't have that [aerial] threat with Kai. The guys that we brought in are more than ready and I think we can be even better than last year."
While Kamara and Espinoza are now playing in Europe, there was speculation about Besler's future with the club during the offseason. When his contract expired at the end of the 2012 season where he was considered the league's best defender, many felt that a move to Europe would have been in the works.
Besler did consider European options and in fact had trials lined up. Before he left for Europe, however, Sporting began serious negotiations and a deal was reached before he ever went on a trial. For Besler, remaining in Kansas City was always his top choice since the club is expected to contend for titles in MLS and potentially the CONCACAF Champions league in 2013/14.
"I didn't ever actually go over to trial with teams," Besler said. "Going into the whole process I knew that I wanted to try to stay with Sporting Kansas City because I really believed in what we were building as a team. I know some people will look at me and say he's not challenging himself or he's scared to go test himself overseas. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about putting myself in the best position and the best possible position to succeed and that was Sporting Kansas City. I love playing for this team and I think we're a great team. That's probably the main reason why I stayed."
On the international front, Besler is also excited about the future. In 2012 he received callups to the national team but didn't get a chance to play his first international game until January when he started in central defense along with Omar Gonzalez for a friendly against Canada.
In that game, Besler played well but was mostly untested against a bunkering Canadian team that played with 11 players behind the ball. The US team was unable to breakdown Canada's defense and struggled with creativity in the final third. Despite that, Besler felt the team practiced well in the run up to the game and the practices were intense.
"I had a great experience during the January camp," Besler said. "I think I learned a lot and I matured as a player while I was there. I also think I did well there. I played with confidence and I felt comfortable on the field playing at that level. We practiced at a very high level. Looking at that, I think it was a successful camp for me. I plan on using that experience to gain even more confidence as we start the MLS season."
Besler's emergence at Kansas City in 2012 came at the right time for the US national team who is presently thin in central defense. The 2012/13 European season has seen top American defenders Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, and Oguchi Onyewu all struggle with their clubs. This has forced head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to consider new options and Besler's performances have forced him into consideration.
In the US team's first World Cup qualifier of the final Hexagonal round, the United States lost to Honduras on the road and the defense again struggled. Besler did not play in that game but was on the roster. The US team now faces a must win game in its second game when it hosts Costa Rica in March.
For Besler, he knows the importance of the games ahead and is ready to answer the call from Klinsmann if asked to play.
"There's a lot of urgency," Besler concluded. "There's got to be a lot of urgency. Hopefully we all learned a lesson in Honduras that this Hexagonal qualifying is not easy and if you don't come to play with the right mentality and work rate for every single game, you're not going to get results. It's almost like a wake-up call and I hope everyone comes ready to play for the Costa Rica game because we definitely need a result."