MLS Player Combine: Nick Besler prepares to chart his own course

Notre Dame midfielder Nick Besler (right) hopes to establish himself as a MLS regular like his brother, Sporting Kansas City and U.S. national team defender Matt Besler (left).

Geoff Burke-John Mersits/Getty Images

LAUDERHILL, FLA.

As the players trudged off the cricket pitch and worked their way toward the bus after the first day of the MLS Player Combine, a recognizable face peeled away from the pack.

The resemblance between Notre Dame midfielder Nick Besler and Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler is stark enough to inspire a double take. His measured and thoughtful words are another indication. Nick Besler is a Besler. There is no doubt about it.

"I do hear it a lot," Besler said. "Obviously, it is (true). There’s the connection – we both play soccer, we went to the same school. Sure, it can get annoying at times. It’s nothing he did on purpose. He’s not going around telling people to make sure that whenever you talk about my brother, you mention me. There are no hard feelings about that toward him. Most of the time, it’s good stuff."

The continued emphasis on those links stems from the similar path Nick Besler followed and the success he achieved along the way. He starred at Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, Kan. and won a state title like his brother did. He chose to play at Notre Dame and earned All-America honors in South Bend like his brother did. And now he hopes to take that next step and join his brother in MLS.

Harping on those similarities tends to brush over the difficult nature of proceeding along the same course and grind away the important distinctions between the 27-year-old U.S. national team defender and the 21-year-old Fighting Irish midfielder.

Nick Besler stands firmly on his own merits as he prepares to start his professional career. He entrenched himself in central midfield with his ability to assert control over the game, move the ball deftly and pick up the right positions to protect the shape of the side. He performed well enough with the Fighting Irish to help his team claim a national title in 2013, prompt MLS to sign him to a contract and push his name forward as a likely first-round pick in the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday.

The strength of those credentials reflects the shared traits – astute reading of the game and tidy distribution, for example – and underscores the variances between two of the three Besler brothers.

"That’s a good point," Besler said. "We’re definitely similar, but we’re different. We play different positions. We have different strengths, different weaknesses. I think something I’m pretty confident in whenever I’m out on the field is directing the play, moving the ball side to side and keeping it. I’m pretty comfortable in tight spaces and getting out of those. It’s just different. As a center back, you might have time to clip long balls. In the middle of midfield, you’re trying to work through tight spaces and trying to find that slipped ball."

Besler understands the adjustments ahead at the next level. He discusses his desire to join the play more frequently when the opportunity presents itself. He grasps the need to cherish possession as he usually does and maintain the sort of reliability he showed at Notre Dame (he played every minute during his senior season). He knows he needs to expand his game in certain areas to ensure a successful transition to MLS.

The next few days allow Besler to reinforce the credentials established in South Bend and strengthen his SuperDraft case. There are opportunities ahead to impress technical staffers on and off the field as the next step beckons.

It is a peculiar and tense gauntlet for any college player to navigate, but Besler can at least turn to his brother for a few tips along the way. The U.S. national team defender told his youngest brother (middle brother Mike is a quarterbacks coach and a history teacher at Blue Valley West) about the need to shrug off the inevitable buzz and train his focus on what he does as the week progresses.  

"It’s a great resource for me, someone who six years ago did the same exact thing and was in the same position," Besler said. "I definitely use that resource, but, at the same time, I’m independent. I like to feel things out for myself."

It is a quality that will serve him well as he prepares for the tasks ahead. The comparisons will continue, but his place in the league rests firmly on his own shoulders.