With the offseason departures of veterans Omar Bravo and Davy Arnaud, Sporting Kansas City enters the 2012 season in search of a captain.
But if early returns are any indication — the team opened its preseason training camp Monday at the Chiefs’ practice facility — fourth-year defender Matt Besler will find himself in that leadership mix.
“All the guys look up to him,” said coach Peter Vermes.
And Besler, a 24-year-old who attended Blue Valley West High School, has proved his worth not only with words but with action. Players and coaches say he helped organize a group of players who stayed in Kansas City during the offseason to work out and train together for this upcoming season.
Fullback Chance Myers was one of those players, along with Seth Sinovic, Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi and Michael Thomas. Sinovic, who went to Rockhurst High School, and Thomas, who went to St. Thomas Aquinas, were no-brainers because of their local ties, but Myers and Zusi were harder sells.
“I basically had to convince them that Kansas City isn’t that bad in the winter,” Besler said. “Chance is a California boy and Zuse is from Florida, so they were little scared of the weather. But I think they saw how I came in last season, and I think they wanted to make sure they put in the work this offseason.”
Besler turned in a breakout campaign last season, thanks in large part to an intense workout program that had trainer Mateus Manoel’s fingerprints all over it. Besler led his teammates though the same program this winter for two to three hours a day, five days a week in December and January.
“It’s a lot of cardio and strengthening of the leg muscles,” Besler said. “We usually used the Stairmaster, and we put it on full blast so we were basically sprinting on stairs, going on intervals.”
Myers, who typically spends his offseason in his native California, said the way last season ended (a home loss in the Eastern Conference final) made the decision to stay and train an easy one.
“A lot of guys were kinda peeved at the way the season ended,” Myers said.
“We didn’t want it to end the way it did, so we wanted to get back to work as soon as possible.”
And by all accounts, their hard work has paid off. Besler and Thomas were deemed the fittest guys on the team by Vermes, who is notorious for having a lack of patience for players who don’t come into camp in shape.
Vermes also credited the other four for being part of a young nucleus that reported to camp in tip-top condition.
“Overall, this is the fittest the team’s ever been coming back to the first day of preseason,” Vermes said. “And they’re all part of that core group that is in top shape.”
“Those guys,” Vermes added, “are absolute animals right now.”
It was, to be sure, a solid start for a young Sporting team that needs leadership, but appears to be in good hands. Vermes said he will wait on appointing a captain — goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and Espinoza are also potential candidates — but Besler figures to be right in the mix.
“He’s a voice in the locker room, definitely captain material,” Myers said. “We look to him, on and off the field, to push all of us.”