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He takes a pass inside the penalty box. His left foot comes down like a vicious pendulum, but the clock is overwound: The ball soars for the right corner and then continues well on, over the crossbar and the fence behind it. Besler expresses no frustration as he sprints back to his original position, about 35 yards from the goal, his arms chopping the air. His next shot bows the back of the net before the keeper can even launch a dive.
"He is a quiet leader who works extremely hard," defender Chance Myers says. "He has a lot of confidence, and that rubs off."
Over the next 75 minutes, Besler raises his voice only to praise a teammate. His gestures are subtle, his hands moving only to show where he wants the ball or where he wants a fellow player to make a run. In passing drills, his line moves with clear efficiency, following manager Peter Vermes' barked-out instructions.
"He does the things as a leader that keeps everybody in check every day," Vermes says. "He's a very intelligent, conscientious kid, and he's always thinking about the rest of the team."
He pauses, then adds: "It's a quiet resilience. He never loses the ball."
Before the pitch, there was the parking lot. Nearly two decades ago, Matt Besler was a red-faced little kid in a youth soccer jersey, hoping to squeeze a shot between orange cones set up on the pavement outside Kemper Arena.
"I think I enjoyed the parking lot more than the actual game," he says. "I remember we'd go out there with our youth team, hours before the game, go in sweaty and then want to come out and play more."
Besler's favorite player was a left-footed midfielder named Jon Parry (now director of coaching for the Sporting Kansas City Academy) — he chose for himself Parry's number, 7 — and he and his family cheered Parry and the Comets and the Attack and the Wiz. In 2000, Besler recalls, he watched on TV as the Kansas City Wizards captured the MLS Cup.
Vermes was then a center back, on his way to being named the MLS Defender of the Year, as tough as the flattop he sports today. But in that 1–0 victory over the Chicago Fire, it was Tony Meola's 10 saves that inspired Besler and his two younger brothers.
"Tony Meola had a ridiculous game," Besler says. "And I remember we all went into the backyard after that game and wanted to be him. We only had one set of goalie gloves for the house, but I was oldest so I got first crack at them."
Besler arrived as a star center midfielder at the University of Notre Dame. He had led Blue Valley West High School to the 5A Kansas State Championship, notching 23 goals and 19 assists. He was that team's playmaker, a rover who made sure that the ball found his foot and then the net. But Notre Dame didn't need a center midfielder. It needed a center back. And Besler wanted to start.
"I had to think about things differently," he says of switching to defense. "You don't get joy in beating someone. You get joy in outthinking them and frustrating them. It was also an adjustment in my style of play. As an attacker, you can be very aggressive, and if that doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. But as a defender, you have to be more conservative. You can't get caught out of place."