Nov. 13, 2014
By Curt Rallo
On the same December 2013 weekend Nick Besler was earning a national championship ring with the University of Notre Dame men’s soccer team in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Matt Besler’s bride was putting a wedding ring on his finger in Kansas City, Missouri.
And even though the Besler brothers were separated by more than a thousand miles from momentous lifetime events, there was no diminishing the bonds that forge a relationship so deeply touched by their Notre Dame experiences.
Matt Besler earned four monograms in his Fighting Irish soccer career (2005-2008). He served as a two-time team captain and earned first-team All-America status as a senior, as well as first-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. Notre Dame earned two BIG EAST crowns with Besler leading the attack.
Matt became the first Notre Dame player to represent the United States in the World Cup, starting all four games for the red, white and blue in the 2014 action in Brazil. He currently captains Sporting Kansas City and is a three-time Major League Soccer all-star. His No. 8 selection overall in the 2009 draft is the highest in Notre Dame’s proud soccer program history.
Nick Besler is in line to earn his fourth monogram for Notre Dame soccer. He is a team captain in 2014 and, in addition to being a national champion, owns a role in two Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles and a BIG EAST Conference championship. He’s on the Missouri Athletic Club (MAC) Hermann Trophy watch list for national-player of the year.
When Matt’s wedding date approached last December, it became clear the Irish soccer success might have an impact.
Nick says his older brother thought he was taking the NCAA postseason soccer tournament into consideration when he and his wife, Amanda, chose their wedding date, which ended up being just one week after Matt led Sporting Kansas City to the MLS title.
“They planned it on the Final Four schedule from the year before,” Nick says. “It would have been fine, but the 2013 Final Four was a week later. Right when the schedule came out, we saw the Final Four was the weekend of his wedding. I told him right then I wasn’t going to make his wedding. It’s funny that’s how it worked out.”
Matt said the wedding/national championship weekend may have been toughest on his parents.
“That was a crazy weekend,” Matt says. “My parents were at both events. They were involved in my wedding Friday and Saturday night. They stayed with us all the way through. I think it was midnight or one o’clock in the morning when they left. Then, they were up at five in the morning on Sunday, so they only got about four hours of sleep. And then they were on a flight to Philadelphia to catch Nick’s game, which started at one that afternoon.
“I like to give Nick a hard time about missing my wedding,” Matt says with a laugh. “My wife, Amanda, especially likes to give Nick a hard time. But he always has that one on me, because I never won a national championship.”
Matt tried to make sure Nick was part of the wedding experience, including him in a Facetime call before the walk down the aisle, a call Nick said was especially meaningful for him.
“I’ve been in Nick’s position before, when there’s something exciting going on back home with your family, and you’re not able to be there, because in college soccer, especially at that level, with Notre Dame, it’s a major commitment,” Matt says. “You have to give up a lot. I’ve definitely been in his shoes. I know about those events you have to miss with your family … it’s tough. I wanted him to feel like he was still a part of it, but we wanted to have some fun, too. There were no hard feelings. It’s just going to be one of those things that 10 years from now at Christmas, I might always bring it up.”
Matt, who is six years older than Nick, wanted his younger brother to make his own decisions when it came to his college choice. But it was clear early on that Matt’s experiences at Notre Dame influenced Nick.
“Nick had an email address that was ND17,” Notre Dame men’s soccer coach Bobby Clark says with a grin. “I remember my son was coaching at Harvard at the time. He knew the Beslers and had worked our camp, and Nick attended our camp.
“Nick sent out a recruiting email to us and to Georgetown and to Harvard. My son told me, tongue in cheek, `We’re certainly not recruiting Nick until he changes his email address.’ The email ND17 was Nick’s way of honoring Matt, because No. 17 was Matt’s number at Notre Dame.”
When Nick went through the recruiting process, he compared other schools to Notre Dame. He always referred back to the beauty of the campus he explored on the afternoons before attending one of Matt’s games. He always referred back to the standard of academics and the values so deeply woven into the soul of Notre Dame. He always referred back to the integrity of the coaching staff. The choice was his alone, and it was Notre Dame.
“I think the real reason I came here was probably the same reason Matt did,” Nick says. “The coaches, the campus … it felt right when I was here. The coaching staff was going to be a big factor wherever I went. This staff I felt showed the most interest in me and felt I had the most promise and potential to be successful in my time here.
“As much as I would like to say I came here just because my brother did, I had my own reasons, too. I think it definitely helped that he was here, because it gave me a sense of familiarity with the campus.”
When he arrived on campus, Nick clearly carved out his own identity and his own legacy. Clark says while it’s always a challenge for a younger sibling to create his own identity, Matt and Nick were unique players with unique personalities.
“Matt was maybe a little quieter,” Clark says. “Neither of them are what you would call loud, but the younger brothers always seem to have a little more punch to them. Nick definitely has more punch to him. He’s a louder voice in the locker room. Matt was quite strong, also, but he was much more of a quiet leader. Nick is also a leader by example, but Nick also makes himself heard within the team
“That was one of the things Matt had to work at as he went into the pro game. I remember speaking to the Kansas City coaching staff about it. That was one of the things they were trying to get him to do, to let his voice be heard a little bit louder within the team. I think he’s developed that. Matt would quietly go about his business. Nick will talk a little more, but they’re both reasonably reserved.”
Matt says he is happy that his brother has been able to live the Notre Dame experience.
“I’m very, very glad that Nick made the decision to go to Notre Dame,” Matt says. “I’m glad he’s dedicated himself at school. Notre Dame is a special place. Sometimes, it’s hard to explain, especially if you are not a student there, but every student will agree the experience is special. Now that I’m a few years out, I can definitely see how much it’s worth it, going through Notre Dame and how valuable it really is.”
Knowing his brother built on his legacy in soccer is also meaningful to Matt.
“All of the alumni, we’re so proud and so happy about the national championship,” Matt says. “There’s a very, very small part of us that is jealous because we never got to experience winning a national championship, but that’s just a very small part. We’re all excited and happy for the guys who won the national title.
“Looking back, you could probably say our group helped establish the culture and the expectations. You can go farther back and probably say the guys before me did that as well. I know the guys in my class and the guys I played with are proud of the part we played in building the program. We’re very proud we got to see the program and coach Clark win a national championship.”
Nick Besler says winning the national championship was a program moment and one that belonged to all of the players who ever wore blue and gold. He said it was his defining moment as a player.
“Last year, after we won the national championship, there was a sense of pride, for sure, because we finally did it,” Nick says. “We also felt we deserved it, because we thought we were the best team, we thought we worked the hardest in the offseason, we thought we worked the hardest during the year. We felt it was our time. We felt it was a little overdue, because some of the teams in the past were really good, and they didn’t win it. We felt it would be good that we finally got it, and we got it for Coach Clark. Up to this point, that has been my greatest achievement, as far as a team goal.”
As Nick prepares to put the finishing touches on his career, he said he hopes his soccer legacy is linked to Matt’s.
“I’d like to say that when I get done here, Matt and I have both done a little bit of something people can remember,” Nick says. “As time goes, maybe they don’t remember who did what, but maybe they remember the Beslers did a little bit to help the program achieve better things. The way I look at it, when Matt was here, all of his teams were really good, and they were really close to making it to a Final Four and making it to a national championship. I look at it that he was in the era of really establishing the blueprint, making the strides for my era to win a national championship.”
Nick said his parents, Greg and Diane, deserve credit for raising children who have been successful academically and athletically. Matt represented the USA in the World Cup, Nick won a national championship at Notre Dame — and their brother Mike played football at Kansas.
“My parents were both strict,” Nick said. “They weren’t saying make sure you do this to become a Division I soccer player. What they did was teach us good lessons that helped us achieve the things we’ve accomplished. They emphasized doing this, this, and this in school in order to learn and get an A.
“Whatever we did, they wanted us to work our hardest so we could get the most out of it. Those lessons translated well into a lot of what we do. A lot of the things they taught us helped us become good athletes, as well as good students and good people.”
For Clark, when Nick concludes his career at Notre Dame, it will end an era.
“The boys have been great, the family has been great, mom and dad …” Clark said. “I feel they’re part of the scenery now. It will be funny next year not to have a Besler around, or not to be recruiting a Besler. We’ve been very proud to have them represent Notre Dame.”