Matt Besler is asked to describe his Sporting Kansas City’s 2016 season in three words. He tilts his head back. He purses his lips, he thinks and thinks and then he punctuates each word: “Up. And. Down,” he says. “Is that three words? Does that count?”
Yes, Matt. That’s a perfect description. Here’s why.
Besler, 29, of course, experienced the highest of highs on Sept. 2 when his first child with wife Amanda was born—a baby girl, Parker Rhea Besler. Matt would like to point out here that he was the one to find the name Parker—”I’m gonna take credit”—not his lovely wife, who Matt says does like gender-neutral names. Rhea is also Amanda’s middle and a family name. Once the Beslers both liked Parker, they began referring to the baby as Parker around the house. It felt right.
Here’s how Little Miss Parker came into the world: On Sept. 1, a Thursday, Matt was in St. Vincent and the Grenadines with the U.S. men’s national team. When he returned to his hotel room after an afternoon practice, he had a few missed calls and a text message from Amanda saying, “Call me as soon as possible.” Her water had broken, and by the time Matt could get ahold of his wife, she was already in the hospital.
Matt went to bed that night at 11 p.m., and at that time, Amanda was being induced. Around 2 or 3 a.m., Matt’s mother-in-law called: Amanda was going to start pushing. Matt didn’t let his phone from his sight. He says he checked it every 20 or 30 minutes trying to get updates. And then, finally, at 5 a.m. Matt got a FaceTime call—as soon as he answered it, he could see the doctor handing his baby girl to his wife for the first time at home in Kansas City. “It was crazy,” he says. “There were about 10 people in the room and lots of noises everywhere, but I did get to see the actual moment when she was welcomed into the world.”
“It was hard,” he continues, “because we had a game the next day so I knew I had to try and get as much sleep as possible.” He was about to get three or four good hours of sleep, but as soon as his mother-in-law called him? “There’s no chance I was going to fall back asleep because I got really nervous and anxious.”
Parker wasn’t due for 10 more days, but the Beslers knew that this situation could be a possibility because Matt was about to embark on a long road trip. The plan going in was that if Amanda’s water broke or she started going into labor, she would call Matt and he would jump on the next flight back to Kansas City from wherever he was “in a couple hours. Be able to see everything, be there,” Matt explains. “Unfortunately, we went down to St. Vincent for this game. We were only there for like 48 hours, and that was just basically the only time (in his road trip) that I couldn’t possibly get back to Kansas City in time.” But Matt still tried. When Amanda told him her water had broken, he called the team’s manager and they mapped out every travel option under the sun, but it just wasn’t humanly possible. “No chance,” Besler says. “Boat rides and flights and flying to Canada and then back or flying to Omaha and then driving, but at the end of the day, I think the earliest that I could be back was a 26-hour travel day.”
Amanda told Matt to stay and play the game. And he did, about 12 hours later. The U.S. men blew out St. Vincent and the Grenadines by a score of 6-0. In the 32nd minute, Besler scored the second goal of the match and his first ever international goal. As a goal celebration, his teammates acted like they were rocking Parker to sleep.
First child, first international goal—tied together forever with a pink bow.
Now, the ball Besler scored with is sitting in Parker’s nursery. “That was awesome,” he says. “I was able to get my teammates to sign it. Everyone wrote a little note to Parker.”
As for the “down” part? Besler suffered a concussion on March 24 during a training session with the national team ahead of a match in Guatemala—his first ever concussion, another first for him this year. “Awful,” he describes. “Hard to deal with. Still dealing with it. It’s just, it’s a life-changer when you suffer a concussion.”
“I think once you suffer a serious concussion, you’re gonna be affected for the rest of your life,” he continues. “Just with certain things in your daily life, especially when you try to compete and push your body to its maximum level. Things like that, and then you always have to make sure you’re being safe with your body because you’re always at risk of suffering another one once you’ve gotten the first one.”
As a direct result, Besler missed the next three Sporting matches. Besler has been benched for 14 total games this MLS season. Have all 14 of those absences been a product of his concussion? “I don’t really want to say that,” he says, “because it can come off as an excuse. So I’d rather just not say that.”
Now, Besler has found himself in the starting line-up the last four matches. On a day-to-day basis, he is spending as much time as he can with his new bite-sized best friend. “You have a human to take care who fully relies on you to stay alive right now,” he says. “There’s not a whole lot of time for other things in your life—going out to eat, working out in the yard, hanging out with friends, social media, all that stuff, that’s all limited now. But I don’t mind that.”
One thing he definitely still has time for is devoting himself to his club. Coming into 2016, Besler rocked the Sporting captain’s armband for two seasons and some change. This season, he has not been able to constantly wear the armband, but he has remained a steady presence for his guys. After we finish talking, he stands up and signs one of his jerseys to be given away at a later date. He’s still as beloved as ever—ups, downs and all.
“At times, we’ve been really good,” Besler says of Sporting’s 2016. “We feel like we are one of the best teams in the league when we play well. At other times, we’ve struggled to get into a rhythm and find consistency. We’re right in the middle of a playoff chase, and I think the reason why we’re not higher (in the standings) is because we’ve had those ups and downs.
“But like I said, we’re pretty confident that if we do play well we can beat anyone in the league.”
Besler and the boys’ next chance to prove that will be this Saturday in San Jose.