In the first week of November, marking the start of another Sporting Kansas City offseason that arrived too quickly, Matt Besler asked his wife to give him some chores around the house.
He doesn’t share this story in some sort of bragging-about-his-good-deeds manner. It was for his own benefit, he admits.
The first inclination was to return to the gym, return to training, return to working toward 2018 as quickly as possible. But one year earlier, an injury forced him to take some time off in the winter, and his body responded in kind. He felt fresh. He felt healthy. He produced arguably his best individual season in three years.
So, the chores would be a good distraction. His wife wrote down seven or eight of them on a list, and Besler got to work. His proudest project was a re-organization of the garage, a task that was just large enough to take his mind off soccer.
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“I forced myself to be out as long as I was last year, but man, it was hard,” Besler said. “I knew it would help me in the long run.”
On Monday, Besler joined his Sporting KC teammates on the field for the first wave of preseason camp for the first time since 2012. The ankle injury obstructed 2016. A series of United States men’s national team January camps were responsible for the previous absences.
Besler is healthy in 2018. And the call to national team January camp came instead to his teammate, Ike Opara, the reigning MLS defender of the year.
The U.S. team moved toward a younger roster this January, given that it has no World Cup for which to prepare this summer. As one of the players on the field during the Americans’ failure to qualify — a result that shook Besler — he was expectedly omitted.
That’s in the past. He says he has not thought about the national team in the past few weeks, nor his status within it. When asked, he says he wants to continue to be in the player pool. And what else would you expect?
What competitive athlete wouldn’t want to continue playing at the pinnacle of his sport?
“A lot will depend on the coach and what he wants to do, so I think they need to announce a coach first before people start figuring out where they are and if they’re gonna get a shot or not,” said Besler, who will turn 31 in February. “But 100 percent, I’m planning and hoping I’m still in the picture. Hopefully I get to prove myself to another coach.”
In the interim, the focus in on Sporting Kansas City, a club trying to make it out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since it won the MLS Cup Final in 2013.
The truth is, 2017 felt like it could have been that season. When Besler was in the lineup last year, Sporting KC posted a record of 12-6-8. That equates to 1.69 points per match, which would have topped the Western Conference.
In the eight matches he missed, Sporting KC was 0-3-5. Winless. But seven of those eight absences were for national team call-ups. He played a combined 40 matches between the two teams yet said he finished the season feeling better than he had in years.
Hence, the chores.
“My body felt the most fresh it has in five years,” Besler said. “I think it showed. So I tried to (replicate) that this offseason.”