On the sixth installment of Keeping Up With The Pros, we caught up with defender Matt Besler, who is currently the skipper of the MLS side Sporting KC. Besler has racked up 286 caps over his 12 years with his hometown club. The defender is a five-time MLS All-Star selection and was named the 2012 MLS Defensive Player of the Year.
Besler has made 48 appearances with the US Men’s National Team, including four starts at center back at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which made it to the round of 16 despite being in the group of death with Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
During his time at Notre Dame, Besler 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 eighth overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by Sporting KC.
Opening Statement: What’s up Irish family, it’s Matt Besler, Class of 2009, checking in during this crazy time. First of all, I hope everyone is doing well. I hope everyone is healthy, staying safe. I want to give a quick shoutout to all the current student athletes—I know it’s a tough time.
Being on campus is the best place to be, it’s one of the best spots and the best four years of your life, so hopefully everything can get back to normal as quickly as possible and you all can get back on the campus. So, I hope everyone is doing well. I’m going to spend a few minutes here answering some questions as part of our current professional soccer series, so let’s get started.
Q: Why did you choose Notre Dame?
A: I chose Notre Dame because it felt right when I visited. I know it’s a simple answer, but a lot of schools that I was looking at, they were all pretty similar in terms of their soccer programs and their academics. I wanted the right balance and Notre Dame certainly fits that mold, but it really came down to just being on campus. When I visited Notre Dame for the first time, I remember that I had almost nervous energy because it was such a prestigious university, and that was also mixed with a sense of comfort as well. It’s kind of hard to describe, I just remember walking around campus and for whatever reason it just felt right. It felt like a place that I wanted to go. It felt like a place that was going to challenge myself and that’s really what I was looking for at that time in my life.
Q: What is your favorite memory of the ND men’s soccer program?
A: That’s a tough question, I have a ton of memories. I think the real memories that stick with me are all the small things—the small experiences, almost boring experiences of just spending time with your teammates, your best friends, in the locker room joking around, eating at South Dining Hall with everyone.
I think one of my favorite times to be on campus was actually in the summer. I loved taking summer classes and just being able to be around the other student-athletes, getting to spend time with them, become friends with some of the people that played other sports. It was just a fun time to go and work out and just be on campus and have fun with friends.
But in terms of games, I think two games really stick out for me. One of the games my freshman year we were playing against Indiana in the NCAA tournament and IU was actually the defending national champions from the year before. We had to go to Bloomington to play them at their place and we ended up upsetting them and knocking them out of the tournament, so it was a huge win for our program, huge win for us.
Then actually the following year we essentially did the same thing. We had to go to College Park, Maryland, to play the Maryland Terrapins at their place and they were also the defending national champions from the year before, and again we ended up upsetting them in overtime. We also advanced that year to the quarterfinals for the first time in program history at that time. So, those were definitely two very big wins for us and it was a lot of fun knocking off those two teams.
Q: How did Notre Dame prepare you for your career?
A: Notre Dame did such an unbelievable job preparing me. On the field, it was such a seamless transition going from the college game to the professional game because the way that Coach Clark ran his program at Notre Dame, it was almost like a professional program. I remember the first week of my professional career we were doing a lot of the same drills that I had been doing in college for the previous four, so that was a huge help certainly.
Then off the field, obviously Notre Dame is such a challenging university and it forces you to learn very quickly and to develop really good habits such as self-discipline, time management you learn very quickly, also work ethic and just being competitive. So, I think those are things that you can carry on with you for the rest of your life and I certainly have off the field in my professional career.
Q: What was your favorite spot on ND’s campus and what is your favorite thing about campus?
A: I lived in O’Neill for three years and that’s on the South Quad, so I’m definitely a South Quad guy. I love South Dining Hall, that’s the place to be. I also like the lakes as well, just being able to walk down there, walk around, get away for a little bit. A lot of times my family would come to visit me and we would spend some time there before they left, and just to be able to walk around, and it’s always peaceful down there, it’s really pretty. I always remember coming back to my dorm after being down at the lakes and it just felt good to be down there and felt refreshed. So, any time I go back to campus, I definitely want to try to make it down around the lakes, spend some time down there.
Q: Share with us a funny story about you and your teammates.
A: Which one should I pick here? All right, I got one. So, my junior year I was living in O’Neill with another teammate, Michael Thomas, and it was in February, so South Bend in February everyone knows what the weather is like. I think it was even more cold than normal, so it was probably hovering right around zero. It was definitely in the negatives with the wind chill, but we had just gotten a bunch of notices from the campus and from O’Neill, the dorm, about not opening any windows and making sure the windows were closed and all that stuff.
So, we had some people over to our dorm room and we were going to go out that night, and it ended up being a lot more people than we had initially planned, so there was probably 10-15 people in our small little room and it got hot quick, so we ended up opening the window just to kind of cool things off for a little bit. Long story short, we went out, spent a few hours out, and then when we got back, we got back late, my roommate and I completely forgot to close the window, we fell asleep, and then a few hours later right in the middle of the night I woke up to the sound of the water pipe bursting because it froze.
So, our entire room was just spewing hot water everywhere. It flooded our room. We were living on the second floor, it flooded the guys that were living underneath us as well, so needless to say, lesson learned, but we had a good time. So, I guess it was worth it sort of. I don’t know if that’s a funny story or a bad story but we’ll go with that.
Q: What’s your favorite soccer memory as a player and as a fan growing up?
A: My favorite soccer memory so far has been playing in the World Cup. I was fortunate enough to be one of the 23 players selected for the final roster to represent the U.S. I got to play in the 2014 World Cup which was hosted by Brazil. So, I spent about six weeks down in Brazil that summer and my family was able to come down and cheer me on and get to experience some of that with me. The World Cup is definitely one of the pinnacles of soccer, so I’m very fortunate I got to experience that, and definitely one of my greatest memories.
Growing up, honestly I don’t have a ton of soccer memories growing up just from a fan’s perspective because there wasn’t a ton of soccer for us to consume. We played soccer growing up but in terms of going to games and watching games online or on TV, there just wasn’t a ton. It wasn’t like it is today.
So, I actually was a huge fan of other sports, and specifically I was a big basketball fan. My favorite athlete, my sports hero growing up, is Michael Jordan. I remember spending a lot of nights with my younger brothers and my dad, and he’d turn off the lights in the living room and we’d watch the Bulls games on TV. I remember him turning off the lights and watching the warmups and they’d play the famous song for the intro and then we’d all act like we were getting announced and on the team with Michael Jordan. So, that was really cool, and it’s a great time actually right now because ‘The Last Dance,’ the 10-part documentary series about the ‘97-98 Bulls team has just been released, so I/m definitely enjoying that and I can’t wait to finish all the other episodes that get released.
Q: What have you been doing to keep busy?
A: So, it’s definitely been challenging during this quarantine time. I have a family, I have two young daughters who are three and a half and one and a half and they’ve been keeping us busy. My wife Amanda and I, we typically wake up and try to just come up with activities for them to do throughout the day, you know, breakfast, lunch, naps, dinner. A lot of family time. The weather has also been warming up a little bit here lately, so that’s been really helpful just getting out in the backyard and just trying to spend as much time outside as possible. I’ve also just been doing some yard work too. I helped my family build a three-rail horse fence the other day which was tough, but it turned out great. I’ve been planting a bunch of trees as well, so if you need any landscaping questions just ask me, I’m an expert now.
Q: What is a talent or skill you want to develop during self-distancing?
A: We always try and cook a lot at home. Before we had kids, my wife and I would spend a lot of time cooking and we had so many recipes that we got good at. We would enjoy trying new things, going to the grocery store together picking stuff out, playing music while we cooked. But now that we have kids, that’s a lot harder to do and we don’t do it as often, but during this self-quarantine you’re forced to eat a lot more at home, so that’s something that I’ve tried to get back into a little bit more. I still wish that I could sit down and just have more time to kind of prepare meals and plan things out so you can try more things so you can get better at cooking the certain things that you like, but that time will come hopefully.
Closing Statement: That’s all the questions. I’ve taken up enough time of everyone. I just want to again say that I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy out there. That’s it for me. Go Irish.