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End of an Era: A Look at Matt Besler’s Sporting Career

The club legend typifies Sporting KC.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2014 when Matt Besler was negotiating and signing his extension with Sporting Kansas City, he’d talked about wanting to stay with the club long term, and setting club records for longevity that wouldn’t be surpassed for years to come. Six years later as Besler’s Sporting career comes to an end, he ends at the top of most longevity lists for the club. He’s played more minutes in league play (25,501) and in all competitions (30,397), appeared in more games in league play (294 tied with Graham Zusi) and all competitions (348), and started more games in league play (285) and all competitions (337) than any player in club history. And while some of those records are likely to fall to Zusi over the next year some are just as likely to stand for years to come with the club.

Matt Besler’s career started out at a baseball stadium just down the road from where Sporting now plays. He made his debut on the road against the Colorado Rapids in the second game of the season, coming on as a substitute for Herculez Gomez in the 87th minute as the Kansas City Wizards chased the game down a goal against the Rapids. He made his starting debut eight days later on a miserable windy, snowy, sleeting day at Community American Ballpark against the San Jose Earthquakes. A game more remembered for the large Claudio Lopez banner almost breaking free. Besler ended up starting 26 of KC’s 30 games that season either at center back, usually partnering Jimmy Conrad or at the left back position. The 2010 season was a step back for Besler as he made just 12 appearances and just 10 starts for the club.

Things though dramatically turned around for Besler in 2011 though as he became the club’s starting center back that year starting 32 of 34 games creating the partnership at center back that carried Sporting through the next three years with Aurelien Collin. In 2012 Besler stepped up even higher winning Defender of the Year that year and from his play started getting notice from the US national team. He made his debut for the club in the January camp friendly against Canada, a 0-0 draw in Houston. He would go on to start against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier in March of 2013, only the second time the US has ever earned a point in a competitive match in Mexico.

After Jimmy Nielsen’s retirement after winning MLS Cup in 2013, Besler was named the club’s next captain. From 2014 through 2017 he helped the club lift two more trophies, the Open Cup in 2015 and 2017, but in 2016 the swing seemed to start to happen for Besler as he started just 17 games that season as KC rotated through center backs a lot more that year. It was even reported later that Vermes had offered to trade Besler but that he’d turned him down saying he wanted to fight for his place. Besler did so and in 2017 was a finalist again for Defender of the Year, won by his partner, Ike Opara. The 2018 season appeared to be a grand return for the club as they made the Western Conference finals, with Besler starting 31 of 34 games that year. In 2019 though things went all wrong for KC, and while Besler started 25 games that year, it did appear that time was catching up on him. The same was true in 2020, where Besler started the season well, but after the restart at the MLS is Back Tournament the defense wasn’t the same as it was those first two games and he made just nine starts this past season, the last coming in a 2-1 loss to Orlando City back in September.

Besler’s growth with Sporting from a rookie to club captain and leader mirrors the club’s growth within the city of Kansas City as it went from mostly an after thought to strong participant within the KC sports community.

Lots of words have been said about Besler’s career in Kansas City, his contribution to the club, and the growth of the game in Kansas City, and he deserves all the praise in the world for all the good he’s done on and off the field. He’s not an offensive weapon like Preki, and he may not have the larger than life personality of a Jimmy Conrad but there’s arguably no player in club history that typifies Sporting KC than Matt Besler. He’s not a flashy player, he shows up, goes about his business and gets the job done and what makes all of it stick even better is the fact that Besler is the “hometown kid” someone who grew up cheering for the club.

He’s been part of many of the best team’s in this club’s history, he’s anchored the back line that has set team and some times league records for shutouts, for fewest goals allowed, for lowest goals against average. He’s been in front of two goalkeepers who have won the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year. He’s won Defender of the Year once (2012), been a finalist two other times in his career (2013 2017), partnered another defender of the year (Opara 2017), and also partnered another finalist (Collin 2012). He was also a two time MLS Best XI honoree in 2012 and 2013. I’m personally not a fan of retiring numbers but it’s certainly not hard to make a case for doing it with Besler. Besler has been on the field for four championship’s with Sporting, the most in club history, tied with Zusi and Seth Sinovic). He took a number worn by another Sporting Legend and eclipsed his performance on the field for the club.

He even got to go represent his club, city, and country on the world stage as part of the US team at the 2014 World Cup as the US advanced out of the “Group of Death.”

There’s never been a criteria announced for becoming a Sporting Legend, but whatever that criteria is following his playing career Besler jumps directly to the front of the list. He’s also the only player that I’ve ever seen play for the club that I’d argue for building a statue for at Children’s Mercy Park. Being a hometown player who joined the club he cheered for as a kid, and not just playing for them, but exceling for them, winning trophies for them, sacrificing for them. He’s the lead in all those stories you read about great players in Europe who become stars for their home club. Unfortunately it won’t have the ending of him retiring with Sporting as a “one club player” that most fans would have wanted but Besler will forever be a Sporting player, a legend for this club, and one of the best professional athletes to come out of Kansas City.