Matt Besler is living proof that you can go home again.
After starring at Overland Park’s Blue Valley West High School, Besler took his soccer talents to South Bend, Ind., and turned in an All-America career at Notre Dame. Besler continued his soccer career on the professional level, enjoying a stellar MLS career playing for over a decade with the Kansas City Wizards and Sporting KC before retiring in 2021 following one season with Austin FC.
Not everyone gets the opportunity to come full circle. But for Besler, the chance to come back home was more than he could have asked for.
“I would have been happy to play professional soccer anywhere in the world, but having the opportunity to do it in my hometown was a cherry on top,” he said. “I really enjoyed playing in front of so many familiar faces and I felt like I got to share a lot of my experiences with them. I take an incredible amount of pride in representing Kansas City and its people.”
On top of his experience in MLS, Besler also became a regular with the US Men’s National Team, playing in 48 international matches, including all four matches in the 2014 World Cup. For that and helping lead Sporting KC to 2013 MLS Cup championship, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Besler with the Class of 2023.
Besler didn’t come from a soccer family.
“Early on, soccer was a learning process for me and my family,” Besler said. “Neither of my parents played soccer growing up, but it was starting to become popular, so they signed me up through the Blue Valley Recreation League and I played for my school team.”
While also playing baseball and basketball, Besler developed a skill for soccer. It didn’t take long for him to excel at the growing sport.
“As a kid, I loved the feeling of running past someone and scoring a goal,” he said. “It was a rush.”
As his game improved, Besler became one of the best amateur players in the country, helping Blue Valley West to the 5A state championship.
At Notre Dame, Besler made history by becoming the first player in Fighting Irish history to be named first-team All-American and first-team Academic All-American.
Despite his many accomplishments, Besler had doubts about his professional career. Though he was eventually drafted eighth overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, Besler wasn’t sold on making it in the pros.
“There were no guaranteed contracts at that time,” Besler explains. “It was all about survival, and I simply wanted to make the team.”
He was good enough as a rookie in 2009 to appear in 28 games. It was the beginning of a career that saw him named to the MLS All-Star team five times. He was an MLS Best XI selection twice, and in 2012 was named the league’s Defender of the Year. But his biggest honor came on the international stage.
In 2014, Besler was chosen for to play for the United States at the World Cup in Brazil. It was the one piece missing from his soccer resume.
“Playing at the World Cup was one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “To be honest, I never really thought I would make it that far. Anytime I got to represent the U.S. on the field, it was an honor, but the World Cup is magnified. I’m happy I got to share the experience with my family and a few of my closest friends.”
The World Cup environment is both intense and insular, so much so that Besler is only able to now appreciate what the experience was like.
“When you’re participating in a World Cup, you’re in a bit of a bubble, so it was hard to have a large perspective,” he said. “But now that I’m done playing and able to reflect, it was a once in a lifetime experience.”
He didn’t reach these career highs on just how own efforts. Besler admits he had a lot of help along the way.
“My college coach, Bobby Clark, guided me through the developmental years of college,” he said. “He taught me the importance of doing things the right way and trusting your process. My parents had and continue to have a great impact on my life. My wife, Amanda, makes me a better person. She has one of the biggest hearts and has taught me how to think of others before myself.”