It happened at 2:15pm on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. Sporting Kansas City was moving on from hometown hero Matt Besler, who, in many ways, was the face of the franchise.
“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dog barking with a juicy bone, Silence the piano, and with muffled drum… let the mourners come…
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
“Stop all the clocks” by W. H. Auden
No. It was certainly not as meaningful as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, as impactful as the 40th Anniversary of John Lennon’s death, the monumental events that happened the two days before.
But to Sporting Kansas City fans, it was everything at the moment. A moment where time was wanted to halt. A time to reflect. A time to mourn. A time to appreciate, again. Time needed to realize Matt Besler would not again be in Sporting blue, that after 12 seasons, he would not retire with the only team he should. The one he child hooded in, matured in, became a star, an idol, and an example in.
Since Wednesday’s announcement, many tributes have been posted in all outlets. They are an outpouring of love, respect, (disbelief and anger from some), and admiration. While Matt Besler himself would be the first to deflect the glowing comments, he likely has reveled in the tearful and joyous memories.
Go to social media to see a host of well wishes. To read a reflection of what Besler represented in Kansas City, see Sam Mellinger’s piece in the Kansas City STAR here. To read of Besler’s focus and gain insight into what made him tick, go here. To read of Besler’s remarkable career, go here.
What follows here are some of Gianluca Busio and thebluetestament.com staff’s favorite memories of Captain Matt, ironically, most not tied to Besler’s performances on the field, but to what he stood so staunchly for, friendship and his franchise:
The beginning, from @mikedkuhn:
“One of my favorite memories of Matt Besler is my first memory of Matt Besler: at the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. The draft was in St. Louis, so I made the trip over to cover it for Down the Byline. I went into the draft thinking KC needed to draft either a forward or a midfielder. The draft, though, was short on forwards outside of the top two being Steve Zakuani and Peri Marosevic. Mock drafts at the time had Kansas City grabbing someone like Michael Stephens, Baggio Husidic, or Chris Pontius as a hybrid forward/midfielder.
Come the draft, KC takes the second center back of the draft (after Omar Gonzalez): Matt Besler. I was surprised and a little disappointed, but I remember Peter Vermes saying that he was the player they wanted the whole time at that spot. I talked with Besler in the media scrum after his selection, and, besides being impressed with how well-spoken he was, I got a strong sense of how excited he was to play for his home town team.
Now, almost 12 years on, I look back at that draft… how there were a handful of KC fans there at the draft that Besler gave a shoutout to during his acceptance speech, how much the team has grown and changed since then, and how much the support for the team has changed. Besler was such a key part of that change. Him being a hometown talent gave it that extra charm as he went from bit-player to team captain and leader over his career. His growth within the team almost mirrored the rise of the team during his time with the club.”
The teammate, from Gianluca Busio:
“Matt was always a guy people wanted to be around.
When I first came to the team as a 15-year-old, he lived across the street, so I used to ride with Seth Sinovic and him. It was kind of awkward to be riding with a Club Legend. But he was so easy to talk with. Right from the start, he brought me into the team. Just joking around, being a leader. It was difficult not knowing the guys, but he would tell me about memories and funny stories he had with the guys to make me comfortable. During the rides to training in preseason, he would always lead a game of Catchprase or just have fun using his dry humor. Sometimes, I didn’t know if he was joking or serious. So I fell for his pranks.
He was always in a good mood. You could look to him for guidance, even when things weren’t going well for him. He was the guy, an amazing person and player. Latinos to new guys to homegrowns, Besler was the gel. He had a great relationship with everyone.”
The love, from @jcmack03:
“Matt Besler helped me fall in love with Kansas City.
I moved to Kansas City on January 2, 2014. Born and raised in Los Angeles, and a soccer fan throughout my life, I was never drawn to the LA Galaxy or Chivas USA. As a result, my MLS fandom was cursory at best. Sporting Kansas City had recently won MLS Cup, thus the city was buzzing with support for a championship team—the first professional sports championship in Kansas City since the Wizards won MLS Cup in 2000.
A few months later, the U.S. Men’s National Team made it out of the “group of death” then lost an extra-time thriller to favored Belgium, doing American soccer fans proud. Kansas City’s own Matt Besler started all four matches in the US’s run that year. Hearing rumors of a European transfer, many thought the days of Sporting’s biggest star in MLS and Kansas City were numbered. Instead, Besler opted to stay with Sporting KC for the long-haul.
Now, six years later, we are saying goodbye to our Captain. Matt Besler was as much of a Kansas City sports icon as the next great KC athlete. Besler showed how great of a city we live in by forgoing many soccer players’ lifelong dream of playing in Europe, to represent his hometown.
Countless on-field accolades and highlights could be chosen as a favorite Matt Besler moment. But his decision to stay right here in Kansas City in the summer of 2014 will forever be mine. I had just become a Sporting KC fan, and I had already begun to see the special relationship the club had with our city. Besler’s decision to stay solidified that. I fell in love with the club. I fell in love with the city. I can count on one hand the number of Sporting KC games I’ve missed either attending at home or watching on the road since 2014.
Would I still have become a fan of SKC and come to adore Kansas City had Besler gone to Europe? Possibly. Maybe even probably. But it would not be the same. I can say with certainty that Matt Besler’s choice to stay helped me realize what makes Sporting KC and Kansas City remarkable in a way that would not have happened otherwise.
And for that, Matt, I thank you. You will be greatly missed in Sporting Blue.”
The champion, from @playfor90:
“As someone who has lived out of state during my support of Sporting Kansas City, I rarely get to see the team in person. However, I’ve met Matt several times during preseason in Arizona, and he’s a fantastic fellow, as if you all didn’t know that.
My favorite memory, though, comes from a time I did see him in person in KC. I traveled back mid-week to watch the 2017 US Open Cup Final between Sporting KC and the New York Red Bulls. It was amazing being there, seeing the team lift the cup, and seeing Besler paint the wall. In his farewell video there are even clips from that night.”
The role model, from @TheBackpost
“A favorite memory of Matt Besler is not easy. I have memories of him as a draft pick, as a rookie, and of him becoming a pro. There are memories of how proud and happy I was of him when he received his first call-up or when he became the first hometown-captain of the team. Especially, after I name-dropped him a dozen times when asking Vermes who the next captain might be.
Memories of seeing him grow from a wide-eyed rookie at his first practice into a veteran leader are special, as is having watched him come back more fit after every off season, more determined than the previous year. Those are all good, but some of my favorite memories of Besler are a little different.
Sporting KC has held youth clinics on the field as a perk for paying your season tickets early, or something like that. I have twice been on the field during those clinics: once when my daughter was one of those kids and once filling in for the regular photographer that had a conflict.
They are typical clinics. Kids have fun, get to see some pro soccer players, get some autographs, and maybe even learn something as they move from station-to-station doing various drills with a pro or two.
At one of those stations, kids would get to sit in the cool seats where Sporting KC and the opponents sit. Matt may have had a minor knock and was taking it easy, or maybe he was exercising his captain’s privilege (RHIP*). In either case, I was able to see him interact with kids. One of them being mine the first time.
It was entertaining listening to the questions the kids came up with and how hard he tried to give them a good answer:
‘What’s your favorite color?’ I think he answered Sporting Blue, or maybe it was Royal Blue….
‘What is your favorites dinosaur?’ I wish I could remember that answer.
‘Who is your favorite player?’ He probably answered George Brett.
‘Do you know Graham Zusi?’ ‘Yes, we are good friends. We used to be roommates, you know,’ he responded.
He was asked multiple “do you know” (Tim Melia, Johnny Russell, Dom Dwyer) type questions, and each time he would, of course, say something good about his teammates. I imagine Besler understood that flashy strikers and keepers making big saves get the headlines, the highlights, and the kids’ admiration.
The whole time I wanted to say, ‘Look kid, you have one of the best defenders in MLS sitting in front of you. He is a World Cup veteran. Ask him about being a stellar defender or what it was like to shut down Ronaldo. Ask him about what it takes to develop into a national team regular.’
Throughout it all, Besler kept smiling and having fun with the kids. Never seeming to be irritated… Staying humble, showing patience and being the good role model those kids needed…
And practicing his future dad skills.”
*RHIP – Rank Has Its Privileges
The leader and ambassador, from @SpKCLife:
“In the locker room, even after fateful matches with fateful results that would bristle the hide of anyone who even remotely cared about the fate of his team, a bevy of reporters craving words from the heart of the team, the one they knew would have to respond to whatever darkness or calamity had descended on Sporting Kansas City at the moment, would wait at Captain Besler’s locker.
In the wake of a wasted result because of a teammate’s error, or another streaky loss, or a season-ending playoff defeat, “Matt”, as the most frequent ones know him, would approach his locker with an aura of responsibility on his face, and that always determination in his eyes. He knew his words would be more revealing than Manager Peter Vermes’, because they would represent his comrades, knew his words would impact how fans interpreted the team’s morale and character. Besler would stand facing the reporters with a “bring it on” attitude. When a reporter implied or blatantly stated a falsehood about his side, Besler would sternly correct the wrong to protect his teammates and truth, while remaining an inviting interviewee.
There would be words of honest reflection, that passing tension, often laughs, but the heart of giving was omnipresent. While reporters moved on, the captain would remain, outlasting the persistent reporters themselves, making sure each got his or her time. In this way also, Besler was an ambassador for his team and his sport. For he knew that with fewer outlets than other sports reporting his words, his words took on more meaning. ‘Thank you for your coverage,’ he often said to me. Thank you for making that coverage such a joy, Matt Besler.”
No, Sporting Kansas City not re-signing Matt Besler is not significant as historical events or dreadful pandemics… but Matt Besler touched lives in a myriad of ways. And that matters, if anything does.