The Sporting Kansas City central defender, who found himself on the Goal 50 list after a solid year, is happy in MLS but doesn't rule out going overseas before the 2018 World Cup.Matt Besler is not a household name in world soccer. In fact, he just became something of a household name in the United States during the past few months.
You can't blame Besler for acting a bit shocked he was listed on Goal 50, which ranks the top players in the world from the previous season. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben and ... Matt Besler?
MORE: Full Goal 50 list | Beautiful fans in Brazil
"I'm surprised," a speechless Besler told Goal after learning that he had received the honor of being among the 50 greatest players in the world, as voted by more than 600 Goal editors and writers. "It’s an honor to be named to this list and I feel lucky.”
It makes sense that the Sporting Kansas City defender would feel a bit lucky these days. He's living a dream after working his way onto the U.S. national team at 26 years old, making his debut with the squad in a friendly against Canada on Jan. 29, 2013.
Besler would spend the next year and a half leading Sporting Kansas City to the MLS Cup title, locking down a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann's back line during qualifying and starting all four World Cup matches as the U.S. came out of the "Group of Death."
A little hard work can get you a long way.
"It doesn't matter who you are, what your name is, how old you are or how long you've been with the team, you have to prove it everyday in training," Besler said of becoming an unlikely mainstay on the national team.
"You look at a guy like myself, and I wasn't in the picture at all four years ago and I made my way in a year or two ago. That's bound to happen again with some players and everyone just has to keep going and keep pushing and continue to get better."
By the time the next World Cup comes around in 2018, Besler will be 31. He already knows he can play with the world's top competition after going head-to-head with three-time Goal 50 winner and reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo. His teammates seem to have the same confidence.
“Absolutely we believe that we can play with anyone in the world," Besler said. "Over the past two years, with the results that our team has gotten in friendlies and qualifying and at the World Cup, we’ve proved that. We should gain a lot of confidence from all of those results.
“Me personally, I’ve always had the belief that I could go up against some of the better players in the world and compete. I think, for the most part, I proved that in the World Cup.”
So the next step for Besler would be joining a major European league, right?
Well, not so fast. Besler had recently been linked to moves to Premier League sides Sunderland and Fulham, two teams that have a history of bringing in American standouts. But he ultimately decided it would be best to remain in MLS for now, after inking a designated player deal with Sporting KC.
“I just signed a long-term extension with Sporting Kansas City, so as of now I’m signed through 2018, through the next World Cup cycle," Besler said. "I did have a couple of options to go overseas, but it’s important to understand that I was still under contract with Sporting Kansas City at the time and it was their decision as well.
"They made it clear from the beginning that they didn’t want to sell me and that they were more focused on signing me to long-term contract. They committed themselves to me and I’m very grateful for that."
He added: "Right now, I’m very happy, but never say never because you never know what’s going to happen a year down the road, two years down the road.”
One option Besler has would be to go on loan during the MLS offseason, which is something many of the top players from the North American league tend to do regularly. LA Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan has spent a couple winters at Everton and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey went back to Fulham for a few weeks earlier this year.
Besler, already eyeing the 2018 World Cup in Russia, will do whatever Klinsmann thinks is best for the former Notre Dame product.
“It’s tricky with the loan move. I would say I’m open to it, but it would have to be the right situation. Who knows what’s going to happen?" Besler said. "If Jurgen is looking for guys to go play in the offseason on loan deals, then that’s something I’m going to have to look in to. If he wants guys to take their four or five weeks off and join up for January, then that’s what I’ll look to try to do. It’s hard to say right now what the future holds.”
Besler is absolutely right about that. The future has been a mystery for him up to this point. But now soccer fans around the globe can sit back and see how an unlikely star will build off a fantastic year.
He's certainly someone to keep an eye on.