Nick Besler walked into the Sporting Kansas City training facility last week, less than an hour after his first professional contract became official. Following a lengthy workout with his oldest brother, Besler was asked to ponder his potential future in Major League Soccer.
The conversation eventually settled on a question Besler has heard far too often over the past decade.
Are you the next Matt Besler?
“I hope so,” he replied. “If you told me I’ll end up doing what my brother has done — MLS, the national team, everything — I would be crazy not to take it.”
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Besler likes to say that he is inflicted with youngest-child syndrome — that he’s spent his life trying to break free of the shadow of his two older brothers, Mike and Matt. There’s a tone of jest when he says it.
In reality, Nick says he finds Matt’s journey motivating. He isn’t avoiding his brother’s path — he’s hoping to mimic it. It’s the reason he attended Matt’s alma mater, Notre Dame, where Nick won a national championship.
When Matt represented the United States men’s national team at the World Cup in Brazil last summer, Nick watched the games while wearing Matt’s jersey. With “Besler” scripted across the shoulder blades, he pictured it as his own.
“I think he entered college with a completely different mindset than what I had,” Matt said. “When I entered college, I had no idea there would be a chance to go pro. I was there to get an education, and that was that.
“Nick saw first-hand that going pro would be achievable. So from day one, I think he was there to reach that goal.”
For the past decade, Nick has followed the path perfectly laid out by his oldest brother. There was the high school state championship at Blue Valley West, accompanied by a single-season goals record. There were the ensuing four seasons at Notre Dame.
And there will soon be an MLS home for Nick, who is projected to be a first-round choice in Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft. He has already signed a predraft deal with the league after graduating early from Notre Dame.
But how much alike are they really?
Well, a story from Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark perhaps best illustrates that. During Nick’s time with Notre Dame, Clark said he struggled to keep from calling him Matt.
“I wouldn’t even realize I was doing it until the guys in the locker room would burst out laughing,” Clark said. “I think I finally got it straight by the time (Nick) was a junior.
“I must’ve just seen them as two peas in a pod.”
The are some differences between the two. The most obvious: Nick is a right-footed defensive midfielder, while Matt is a left-footed center back who captains Sporting KC.
Sporting KC owns three first-round picks (Nos. 10, 12 and 20), but its interest level is relatively unknown. Technical director Peter Vermes, notorious for hiding his draft plans, simply said Nick “is on our radar.”
Clark says Nick was a key piece in Notre Dame’s national championship two years ago. He followed with one goal and two assists in his All-American senior season.
The scout reviews are that Nick is more valuable than statistics might indicate. He makes the little plays that often go unnoticed, works well in tight spaces and “hasn’t lost a header in years,” Matt adds.
“I think Nick came here a little bit ahead of where Matt was because he had picked up the soccer nuances from Matt already,” Clark said. “As far as strengths, Nick is very, very good in the air. He’s a very smart player, just like Matt was.”
Teams have shown interest in Nick, he said, but Matt has warned Nick to enter the draft with an open mind. After all, Sporting KC hadn’t expressed any interest in Matt before selecting him eighth overall in 2009.
When he was a junior in high school, Nick passed on an opportunity to enter the upstart Sporting KC academy, thus preventing him from becoming a homegrown player. While there’s still a chance his next home will be Sporting Park, it appears increasingly likely it will be elsewhere.
And that could pit the two brothers against each other on the soccer field — something they haven’t experienced often, even in the backyard as kids. A six-year age difference prevented that.
It won’t any longer.
“If I have to play against him, would I take it easy on him?” Matt pondered. “No way. No chance. And he wouldn’t want me to, either.”