The American center back may have cemented legend status in soccer hotbed Kansas City, and his decision to stay shows the USA is facing some of the same challenges Mexico faces.
Editor's Note: CONCACAF hipster Jon Arnold brings Goal readers stories and opinions from around the region in a weekly column.
Kansas City's reputation on the national stage dipped some time in the last half-century. Rodgers and Hammerstein immortalized it as a place with all the latest technologies and amenities in "Oklahoma!" while Leiber and Stoller's protagonist, eventually voiced by stars like The Beatles, James Brown and Fats Domino, painted it as land full of wild women and flowing wine.
But while the "Paris of the Plains" moniker is now mostly tossed around with tongue planted in cheek, Sporting CEO Robb Heineman and his partners have turned the region into an international-caliber soccer city. The crowds are outstanding, the stadium and facilities stunning, and the team continues to find success.
So it's no surprise U.S. international center back Matt Besler elected to take a designated player deal to stay with Sporting Kansas City, rather than pursuing opportunities to sign with a European club.WORLD CUP: Beautiful people | Germany homecoming
Besler made the decision after a successful World Cup that capped a whirlwind year for him. After being thrown to the wolves at the start of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, Besler became an indispensable part of Klinsmann's roster. He helped the team to a hexagonal-topping campaign, and played a qualifier against Jamaica that amounted to a victory lap in front of his home fans. He lifted the MLS Cup in front of those same fans and celebrated with his new bride after getting married just after Sporting's triumph.
Rather than risk his status as a hometown hero, he has likely cemented legend status among the Sporting faithful, all while staying in the community he has grown up and invested in. With all the transfer talk of players being sold and teams targeting stars, it's far too easy to forget that players are humans who have real relationships and real lives away from the office like anyone else. Staying home, especially for a newlywed 27-year-old now making a significant amount of cash, isn't too tough of a decision. Maybe that's why he's apathetic about criticism of his choice.
It's nothing new for the region. For years, Mexican players, especially those on the wrong side of 25, have been unmoved by offers from abroad for the simple reason that they can stay in their home league and make as much or more money than they would otherwise.
Has it plagued El Tri? Not exactly. In fact, Miguel Herrera went back to the league roots when he took over, gradually integrating the European-based players before arriving at his final World Cup squad. There is danger in losing outside influence, though.
Part of England's continuing struggle for relevancy on the global stage can be attributed to the fact that players aren't challenging themselves in leagues outside the United Kingdom. It can be a positive influence both to learn the tactics and style of play of another league, but also to receive the cultural education that comes along with living and working in a foreign country.
But with the Stars and Stripes' constant integration of players who have lived outside the States for much of their lives, and the younger generation of Mexican stars seeming eager to explore European options, CONCACAF's teams should be able to grow, even if some of the key players never leave their domestic leagues. A blend must exist, however, and if a large number of young players stop aspiring to play in the Premier League or La Liga, a shake-up may be required.
When Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley made their returns to MLS, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann expressed his concerns. But he seems to have thrown his hands up and accepted that the domestic league is flexing a bit more financial muscle than it has in the past – whether it's valuing stars like Besler or DeAndre Yedlin a bit higher than European clubs might, or splashing the cash to bring the country's biggest stars back to America's shores.
Besler staying shows MLS has caught up with Liga MX as a league that has the resources to entice players to put beeswax in their ears to avoid the siren song of Europe's top leagues. That might be frustrating for Klinsmann and Herrera, but for now it's a challenge with which they can cope.
- Panama and Mexico's top domestic leagues got underway last weekend. Tom Marshall has thoughts on Liga MX. In Panama, only two of six matches saw goals. Darwin Pinzon, 20, jumped to the front of the Golden Boot race with a double for Sporting San Miguelito in a 2-1 win against Chepo.
- Speaking of young Central Americans, the UNCAF U-20 tournament continues with Panama impressing and Nicaragua and Belize continuing to flounder in regional competition. The top four teams will move to the final stage of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2015 U-20 World Cup, which will take place in Jamaica next January. The first round of Caribbean U-20 competition is also underway with Haiti, Aruba and Curacao hosting groups still in progress. Other group hosts Dominican Republic and Cuba are already through to the final stage, which will take place in Trinidad and Tobago.
- The United States and Canada have named their squads for the FIFA Women's U-20 World Cup, which takes place early next month in Canada, and will serve as a trial run of sorts for the 2015 Women's World Cup in the same nation.