Q: The largest sporting event in the world is the World Cup. So far, only one native Kansan has played in the World Cup. What's his name and hometown? (Hint: He plays for Sporting Kansas City!)
A: Matt Besler (BEEZ-ler) / Overland Park
Matt Besler, who grew up in Overland Park, plays Major League Soccer for Sporting Kansas City. So far, he's the only native Kansan to play in the World Cup. A regular with the United States national team, he played at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Besler was a four-year All-Conference player at Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park. He led Blue Valley West to the Kansas 5A State Championship as a senior, scoring 23 goals with 19 assists, and holds the season and career marks in total points, goals and assists at Blue Valley West.
Besler played college soccer at the University of Notre Dame, playing in 90 games and scoring 5 goals during his college career. He received All-American and Academic All-American honors as a senior, was named the NSCAA 2008 Senior College Men's Scholar All-America Player of the Year, and was named to the All Big East Team three times. He helped Notre Dame gain four straight berths in the NCAA championship, including the program's first two trips to the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2007.
Besler was drafted in the first round (8th overall) in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by the Kansas City Wizards. He made his professional debut on March 28, 2009, as an 87th-minute substitute during a 2–1 loss at the Colorado Rapids. He scored his first professional goal on March 26, 2011, in a 3–2 loss to the Chicago Fire. On July 10, 2011, Besler was added to the 2011 MLS All-Star team via the fan text message vote. In 2012, Besler anchored the top defense in MLS with Sporting Kansas City and went on to help the club win the U.S. Open Cup by converting his attempt after the game against the Seattle Sounders went into penalty kicks. He also was named 2012 MLS Defender of the Year and named to MLS Best XI. In 2016, he was included in the roster for the 2016 MLS All-Star Game. Throughout the 2018 season, Besler became the all-time leader in each of the club's longevity categories, overtaking club legends such as Davy Arnaud and Kerry Zavagnin for games played, games started and minutes played both in MLS play and in all competitions.
Besler became the regular starting left-center back for the United States under head coach Jürgen Klinsmann. He was rated the top performer during the 2014 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying matches. Besler made his debut for United States on January 29, 2013, in a friendly match against Canada. Previously, in 2012, Besler was called up to the United States squad by head coach Jürgen Klinsmann for a friendly match against Mexico. On March 26, 2013, Besler made his first World Cup qualifying appearance in a 0–0 draw at Mexico. On June 2, Besler started as the United States defeated Germany 4-3 in an International Friendly played at RFK Stadium. Subsequently, Besler started in the World Cup Qualifying wins against Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras. After being left off of the initial roster for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup so that the team could evaluate other players, Besler was added to strengthen the squad after the United States qualified for the knockout round. Besler was selected for U.S. National Team 23-man roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He started all three games of the group stage and their Round of 16 game, helping the U.S. make it through the group stage for consecutive World Cups. Following his strong performance in the World Cup, several European outfits placed offers and expressed interest in signing Besler, including Freiburg, Fulham and Sunderland. Besler reportedly declined the offers and decided to stay in Kansas City. He scored his first National team goal on September 2, 2016 with an assist from Sporting Kansas City teammate Graham Zusi (on the same day his first child was born). Besler was a part of the U.S. National Team squad that won the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Besler made four appearances in the tournament, including a start in the final as the U.S. beat Jamaica 2-1 on a late goal from Jordan Morris as Besler lifted his second international title.
Fun factoid: Matt Besler's younger brother, Nick, plays MLS for Real Salt Lake.