Matt Besler has never been big on the spotlight, but he may have to slightly adjust that perspective after his latest career move.
The 30-year-old’s soccer journey has been improbable – from local high school star to four-year college standout to captain of his hometown MLS club to World Cup starter – but his latest move may be the most surprising of all: published author.
Unlike many athletes who pen juicy tell-alls when their playing days are done, Besler’s book “No Other Home” will be a collection of short stories that spotlight the quiet leadership and mental fortitude that have made him such a dependable cog for Sporting Kansas City and the U.S. national team.
“It’s not your typical sports biography,” Besler told Goal of the book that will be released on Nov. 7. “It’s going to be a collection of posts and quotes and stories [not] in chronological order.”
Besler had been approached to write a book before, after writing several well-received blog posts for various outlets.
“I started writing a couple blog posts, one was for The Players’ Tribune, another for MLSsoccer.com, just kind of random things throughout the years,” Besler said. “I got some good feedback on a few of the posts that I wrote. I enjoyed the process and I enjoyed putting my voice out there.”
In March 2016 when he was recovering from a concussion, doctors recommended Besler keep a journal to help with his recovery. Boosted by the positive feedback from his previous blog posts, Besler decided the time was right to turn his journaling into a full-length book.
“My plan was to pull together a collection of posts, quotes, autobiographical stories, ideas, and opinions. Not only would this book potentially inspire people, I thought, this project would be therapeutic for me as I worked my way back from the concussion,” Besler writes in the introduction to his book.
“My goal isn’t to sell millions of copies and make a bunch of money. If I wanted to try and do that, I would have written a traditional biography with juicy details and controversial stories from my career.”
Besler laughs when he’s told of the Amazon description of his book, which uses the term “anti-flamboyant” to describe him.
The moniker is fitting though, for a player whose best games usually result in observers hardly noticing him on the pitch. He writes about this phenomenon in the book.
“My position is a position of mistakes,” Besler explains. “Other positions on the field, you’re encouraged to make mistakes, you want to try things.
“If you’re a forward and you make nine mistakes but the 10th shot goes in, you’ve done your job. Whereas as a defender, if you make nine great plays but the 10th play is a big mistake and you give up a goal then you’ve had a bad game.
“That’s something that I’ve learned. You almost have to change your mindset and you have to learn to be more safe until you don’t make those mistakes. That ultimately is what you’re judged on as a center defender.”
Perhaps the most relevant section of the book to Besler’s recent past is his guide on how to sit on the bench.
Despite maintaining his status as a regular for the U.S. national team, Besler has found himself out of the starting lineup for Sporting KC at various points in the past two seasons. In 2016 he started just 17 games – his lowest total since 2010.
“You just have to choose whether you want it to affect you in a positive way or in a negative way,” Besler says of being on the bench.
“You have to find little things that you can contribute to turn it into a positive – that’s being ready physically just in case you are called upon, that’s accepting your role and making sure that your teammates are ready, doing what you can to get them ready and give them confidence.”
Besler’s club boss has long been an admirer of Besler’s mental approach, which is why the center back never seems to remain on the bench for long.
“There’s been situations over his career where i’ve sat him on the bench a couple times here and there,” Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes told Goal. “He handles it extremely well … he understands and he listens.
“Those times when he has been taken out, they’ve been short-lived. And it goes back to his work ethic and his consistency.“
Consistency has been a big part of Besler’s success, and is a theme that the center back writes about in his book.
“At this level everybody is a good player and everybody at some point can make a good play or have a good game or have a good week, but the special players and the guys that really make a living and make a career out of it are the guys that can be consistent about it,” Besler said.
Besler has certainly found the consistency needed to make a career out of the game. And if all goes according to plan with his book, he may have just discovered a second career as well.