The scene played out in a fashion he knew all too well, but Matt Besler took a few moments to process how it caught up to him. All of the carefully devised plans crumbled. He expected to spend last summer in the heat of a CONCACAF Gold Cup defense. Instead, he coped with the fallout of missing out on the squad entirely.
Besler felt all of the natural emotions when United States Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann left him out of his 23-man squad for the continental championship. He cycled through them as quickly as he could. His mind drifted from the frustration of the opportunity lost to the possibility of using the setback to push his way back into the frame for World Cup Qualifying and the upcoming Copa América Centenario. He pinpointed his approach as a key component in the recovery.
“I’ve seen guys miss out on teams,” Besler explained to ussoccer.com. “It happens every single year. The ones who get through it the best are the ones who handle it the right way. It was a difficult time. It was tough to do interviews like these and try to explain why you weren’t on the roster and how the team was doing and all of that stuff. But it’s part of the process. And it’s made me a stronger person.”
Most of the resolve emerged from his tried and tested qualities. His consistency with Sporting Kansas City is the reason why he assumed the club captaincy with Sporting Kansas City, claimed a MLS Cup title and pried his way into the U.S. National Team picture in the first place. It is why he emerged as a key figure during the buildup to the 2014 World Cup and started all four games in Brazil.
Those tenets formed the bedrock of his response. Besler leaned on his teammates for support and streamlined his thoughts. He quickly located the steady ground required to navigate a busy summer with Sporting KC and state his claims for a recall.
“I think I really learned a lot about how to focus,” Besler said. “A lot of times, I feel like we can get caught up in all of these different things going on around us in the big picture, but I think the best way to get through things and get through situations like that is to narrow your focus and control the things you can control. That’s the attitude I had.”
Whatever Besler did, it worked. His performances reflected his desire to prove a point and underpin his international case. Sporting KC racked up three straight wins and tromped through two rounds of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as the Gold Cup unfolded.
Those displays prompted Besler’s recall to the international fold in September and spurred his return to the starting XI for the CONCACAF Cup and the opening two matches in FIFA World Cup Qualifying. His performances justified his continued inclusion and ensured his tumultuous year ended with the proper footing.
Once Matt Besler reurned to the U.S. fold, he helped the MNT secure a clean sheet and important road point
to begin World Cup Qualifying for Russia 2018.
All of the trials and tribulations provided Besler with context as he plowed onward toward Copa América. There are few silver linings after missing out on a major tournament, but Besler frames those unfamiliar setbacks in a different light now.
“I think I’m just more experienced,” Besler said. “I think experience goes a very long way in this game. I had a lot of positive experiences, but I also had some negative ones last year as well. When you put everything together, I really felt like I grew as a player. I felt like I grew as a person as well. I think that’s just going to help me out going forward.”
It is now the foundation as Besler plans for another major tournament. The sting of last summer fades with each passing day, though it is still there in some form or another. But the opportunity ahead now – a chance to play in this one-off tournament against the top teams from CONCACAF and CONMEBOL – provides a chance to compensate for the disappointment of last summer.
As Besler ponders the challenges ahead, he recalls one of those searing memories from the trip to Brazil. It is the sort of recollection capable of informing why he cherishes the opportunity ahead.
Besler left the field in Salvador and spent time in the recesses of Arena Fonte Nova wrestling with the fallout from the round of 16 defeat to Belgium. He said he remembered being devastated as he worked through it all in the locker room. He turned to Michael Bradley and proceeded through the twists and turns of that dramatic affair in real time. Bradley soaked it all in as Besler worked through the previous 120 minutes and wondered what might have been.
When Besler reached a stopping point, Bradley offered some insight Besler carries with him to this day. Bradley said those emotions made the tournament and tournaments like this one so special. He said they only come around every so often, they draw so much from you and then they just end.
Those words stuck with Besler even as he emerged from that haze and moved onwards in his career. They ring true now as he stands on the precipice of another major tournament after missing out on the last one. And they reveal how he plans to grasp the occasion with both hands.
“I think the Copa America is an example of one of those once-in-a-lifetime tournaments,” Besler said. “We want to take advantage of it.”