Matt Besler had a decision to make; a decision that would not only determine the immediate course of his playing career, but would also greatly impact the course of his life. The Sporting Kansas City central defender was coming off the most successful of his four professional seasons, he had just collected the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year award, and was a near certainty to be included in the United States national team's January training camp with a decent shot at making the roster for the first World Cup qualifier played this past Wednesday.
Besler, a relative unknown in terms of the national team setup up until now, was as much in the forefront of American soccer as he'd ever been. He was also a free agent, out of contract with Sporting KC, and clubs in Europe were well aware of his standout performances in 2012. When his contract expired in December, Besler was free to hold talks with any club in the world over a new deal.
But, according to Besler, it wasn't a tough decision for the soon-to-be 26-year old (his birthday is on Monday) to make.
"Going through the whole process, I knew I wanted to stay with Sporting," Besler said by phone on Friday. "That's honestly where I started. As I was looking through my options, I always had that in the back of my mind, and I told myself that it has to be an extremely good situation for me to consider leaving Sporting Kansas City.
"At the same time, though, I was a free agent. In my position, you almost have to go and look and see what kind of offers you can get."
Rumors at the time placed interest in Besler, among other places, in Belgium and England. Queens Park Rangers and Southampton of the English Premier League were the most hotly talked about of inquiring clubs, given their top division status, but Besler always held his hometown club in the highest of high regards through the free agency process.
"I got some good looks in the [English] Championship, but those were the most serious looks I got," Besler was willing to divulge. "For me, that wasn't worth it to leave Sporting Kansas City. When I did hear about the Premier League - the interest from QPR and Southampton - that was something I would consider being at least level with Sporting Kansas City.
"At the end of the day, though, they didn't give me any official contract offers. All it was, was that they were interested in looking at me and they wanted to bring me in on trial."
While many fans worried about his impending decision, the feeling of having unfinished business following two straight playoff defeats at the hands of Houston Dynamo was enough to bring Besler back for another run at MLS Cup. As he has already worked himself somehwere into the plans of U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann while playing for Sporting KC, feeling the need to jump to Europe in order to validate himself in the eyes of the national team boss wasn't an extra pressure for Besler, like so many other hopeful representatives.
In 2013, it's not just Besler that sees Kansas City in that light, though, as a place to truly showcase yourself as part of a top organization and team environment.
"Roger [Espinoza], Kei [Kamara], and even Graham [Zusi] with the national team, they've all used our team success to propel them into new opportunities," Besler said.
"That's what Peter [Vermes] preaches. He tells the guys from day one that individual success comes from team success, and those guys are just prime examples. Just look at the guys like Benny [Feilhaber] and Ike Opara coming in, I think Kansas City is a destination now. Good players want to come here, and they want to play for this team. That's the environment Peter has created."
The best part for Sporting KC fans, though, is this: for Besler, it doesn't stop with the successes obtained in 2012 and early 2013. As is always the case for this motivated individual driven to be the very best, Besler won't be resting on his laurels once the 2013 season opens on March 2.
"I want to continue developing as one of the elite centerbacks in the league," he says. "Being named the MLS 2012 Defender of the Year is a nice honor, but now you have to live up to it. I'm out to prove to everyone the award is warranted. It's time for me to really step up as a leader. At the end of the day awards don't really matter, but I play defender, so why wouldn't I want to repeat and win the Defender of the Year again?"
Keeping in mind Besler's 2012 goals, as told to myself in January of last year - to himself be called the best centerback in MLS, and allow the fewest goals as a team - 2013 is shaping up to be another stellar year for the promising, future captain of Sporting KC. And, thanks to the commitment and love Besler feels not only for, but from his hometown club, it's Kansas City that will once again be one of MLS' best.