Matt Besler is Kansas City raised and Kansas City made, but he is here this week like a tourist. He is living out a dream he formed growing up in Overland Park, but when you’re a 9-year-old playing youth soccer, you don’t think that making the MLS All-Star team when the game is in your hometown means you can’t sleep at home.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
He’s not complaining — the Kansas City Marriott Downtown is fine and all. But it is a strange consequence to his life as an American soccer star that he closed on an area house three weeks ago and still hasn’t slept there because he has been traveling so much.
“But I’m moved in,” he says with a smile.
Besler will play tonight in the All-Star Game at Sporting Park, spend one more night in the hotel, and then try out this new house for the first time. Finally.
He mentions all of this with a laugh, and why not? Besler will have plenty of nights in the house. He signed a contract extension with Sporting Kansas City this past offseason, and says he’d be happy to spend his whole career here.
In that way, he is the most Kansas City professional athlete we have right now. He played on youth teams in Johnson County, graduated from Blue Valley West and was drafted by Sporting in 2009. He’s marrying a local girl in December.
Soccer doesn’t have the profile of the NFL, and defenders have the lowest Q-rating on the field. But Besler is to Sporting, basically, what Darren Sproles, Josh Freeman or Aldon Smith would be to the Chiefs, if they played here.
Besler is what the Royals dream Bubba Starling can be for them someday. Or a version of what they missed out by not drafting Albert Pujols.
Besler is a homegrown star in every sense of that term, a two-time All-Star, last year’s MLS defender of the year, and now the second-most-capped player for the U.S. Men’s National team this year. The Americans are 6-0-2 since Besler became a starter, and he should be a key part of the U.S. defense in the World Cup next summer in Brazil. Former U.S. World Cup defender Alexi Lalas even said Besler would be the Americans’ best player.
And Besler is plain about his desire to stay in Kansas City long-term.
“Yeah, I would be happy with that,” he says. “As long as we’re progressing the way we are. If we’re competing for championships every year, I’d be happy to stay here my whole career. … It’s a good situation.”
Words are words, but Besler turned down multiple offers from teams in Europe in order to sign that extension with Sporting last offseason.
So Besler is not just a Kansas City kid who grew into sports stardom, and not just a Kansas City kid who grew up to play for his hometown — he’s a Kansas City kid who grew into a star in his sport and at least so far shows every indication of wanting to stay here.
Kansas City doesn’t see many career paths like this.
“It’s a great story for us, right?” says Peter Vermes, Sporting’s coach and technical director. “Because of what we’re trying to do on the youth side. We know we have to develop kids for the future. We have to. So if you take a guy like him, you say, ‘Hey, he’s kind of come up through this system and here he is now and he still wants to stay here,’ I think it says a lot about our club.
“It’s not necessarily building a team around that player. It’s building a team around that idea.”
Besler is just now starting to penetrate the international soccer scene. The temptation to call this a “breakout” ignores a lifetime of work, of dreaming, but Besler allows that “things have happened pretty fast.”
Three years ago, he knows, nobody could’ve predicted this. But he balances the fast rise by remembering that “just as fast as things can happen, it can happen the other way as well.”
So this isn’t a culmination for Besler as much as it is the next step for a world-class athlete who was raised locally and is playing at his peak. Tonight, that will be in the MLS All-Star Game. Next summer, the World Cup.
In between, maybe even a few nights at that new house.