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Matt Besler Rises Above the Competition in World Cup

The Sporting Kansas City center back has been one of the best United States players in Brazil. We caught up with him after the 2-2 draw against Portugal to talk success.
BY Noah Davis Posted
June 23, 2014
9:16 AM
RECIFE, Brazil—Matt Besler is making himself a lot of money.

The central defender, who takes home $200,000 from Sporting Kansas City according to figures released by the MLS Players Union, posted his second straight solid performance of the 2014 World Cup on Sunday night.

The world is beginning to pay attention. Besler, quiet and humble, was a loath to talk about his play following the 2-2 draw.

"It's awkward talking bout myself," he said.

Eventually, he acquiesced: "I felt like I got into a rhythm tonight. It's one of those games where you feel like you're in a zone. A couple of the plays were lucky. You're in the right spot at the right time. But again, I'm just helping out the team, trying to get into right spots."

He was quick to credit his defensive mates—Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, and DaMarcus Beasley—too.

"As a back four I think we were able to for the most part limit their dangerous players," he said. "We kept the ball in decent spots. We gave up some long distance shots, but at this level you're going to have to give up certain things."

It's been a rapid rise for the 27-year-old defender who earned his first cap for the United States less than 18 months ago. He improved quickly, growing more confident with each American camp and pushed his way into the Starting XI. Although he had no World Cup experience prior to last week's opener against Ghana, Besler is used to getting thrown into big situations and succeeding; his first World Cup qualifier came against Mexico, away at Azteca. The Americans eked out a 0-0 draw, the backline playing exceptionally well.

Besler kept his spot, making himself more indispensable than other new comer Omar Gonzalez and owning the role of calm, smooth-passing left-footed center back. Were it not for a tight hamstring against Ghana, he would have played all 180 minutes of the U.S.'s first two games in Brazil. Even so, he's been one of the team's best contributors.

In Manaus, which Besler called "more humid [but] less hot" than Kansas City in August, the red, white, and blue defended well after conceding an early goal but got caught on the final moments when a cross flew over Besler's head and found Silvestre Varela, who had beaten Geoff Cameron on a back post run.

"Cristiano [Ronaldo] finally got into open space with a minute left in the game," Besler said. "That was the first time that he got a chance to take someone one on one. He takes a touch and whips a ball in, something that he doesn't do."

The U.S. would have to settle for a deflating draw.

"I think we’d be lying if we said that we weren’t heavy after this game," the defender said. "I think everybody is. The conditions were difficult for both teams tonight. I think the positive is that we kept pushing the game. We were holding on to things at the end but that was just the nature of the game. We’re going to be just fine."

"You just got to move on. It’s a very quick turnaround. We’re in a good spot. We control our own destiny and that’s really all you can ask for. Yeah, it would have been great to get six points but we didn’t. So we have to move on, we have to change mentalities from Portugal to Germany, and that starts right now on the plane ride."

The final American match of the opening round is just three days away. Any type of result and the Americans go through into the knockout stage, although Besler isn't thinking that way: “You can’t go into a game trying to get a draw. You have to go in with a winning mentality.”

In many ways, Besler has already won in Brazil.

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