Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
WASHINGTON – Matt Besler did not start for the U.S. Men’s National Team in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Belgium, and given how poorly the U.S. defense performed that night, Besler may have seen his stock rise higher than the other three defenders vying for centerback minutes for Jurgen Klinsmann.
Given the struggles of Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson against the Belgians, and given the fact that Geoff Cameron appears to be needed more at right back, Besler could see his hold on a regular starting centerback spot solidify if he can turn in a good showing against Germany. It is not a guarantee that he will start, but his outstanding performance against Mexico in March should help the Sporting Kansas City standout earn a start against the Germans.
Not only does Besler merit a look due to his showing at Estadio Azteca in March, but playing Germany would provide some invaluable experience for the central defender of the four currently in camp with the U.S. with the fewest national team caps. The 26-year old has played in just three matches at the international level and all have come this year, but that is still not keeping him from being in the mix for a start in this Sunday’s high-profile friendly against Germany and beyond.
“We’ve got five games and there’s bound to be changes. It will be impossible to play the same team five games in a row,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard. ” We’ve got to look ahead not only to this game but to what next week brings and there will be changes after that due to injuries, hopefully not, yellow cards, all that type of stuff. There will certainly be changes.”
While Besler admitted prior to the U.S.’s training session on Monday at American University that his mindset is on competing for a starting role, he also said he is not concerning himself too much with the open competition that appears to be going on between him, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson and Geoff Cameron.
What Besler is focusing on is trying to learn as much as possible in each training session, just in case his number is called at some point during the Americans’ next four games. In fact, the savvy Besler already took away a valuable lesson from the Belgium match at FirstEnergy Stadium despite playing only 21 minutes as a second-half substitute.
“I look at the players they have and they’re all dangerous players, attacking wise, so the margin for error when you play those teams is a lot smaller than any other team,” said Besler. “You can’t be as aggressive defensively. You have to play smart.”
Besler intends to try and execute that strategy should he take to the field against Germany in the U.S.’s centennial match at RFK Stadium on Sunday. The Sporting Kansas City centerback knows, however, that that is easier said than done.
Germany did not bring their top players to the U.S. capital, but they still boast a talented squad that should present plenty of problems to the Americans. Germany head coach Jogi Low – who saw his side cruise to a 4-2 victory over Ecuador at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla. on Wednesday – has the likes of Lazio’s Miroslav Klose and Arsenal’s Lukas Podolski at his disposal and that should more than assure a busy day at the office for whoever starts in the U.S. back line.
Besler is well aware that playing against Germany in just his fourth cap would be a big challenge, especially considering that he is close to but not at full fitness after only recently recovering from a minor MCL injury sustained while with Sporting KC (which may or may not have played a role in him being benched vs. Belgium). But what is working in his favor is that he is not unfamiliar with being abruptly thrown into the deep end by U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“They’ve all been tough lately: Mexico, Belgium,” said Besler, who debuted against Canada in January before surprisingly starting in the Americans’ scoreless draw at Estadio Azteca in World Cup qualifying in March. “But, again, it’s going to be another tough test for us. These two games, they’re prep games, they’re prep games for the qualifiers, and that’s really the mindset that we have: getting ready for the qualifiers.”
If Besler is deemed fit enough to get the nod on Sunday, he will have a golden opportunity to stake his claim for a starting spot in the heart of the U.S. defense ahead of three key upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras.
Besler could not have envisioned such a scenario a year ago but the opportunity is there for the taking and the defense seems tailor-made for him due to Klinsmann’s desire to build out of the back with short and smart passes.
“I think that fits my style but again it’s just playing more as a team,” said Besler. “At times, I think we were a bit spread out in the (Belgium) game and it all starts with us in the back. Defensively, obviously, it starts with us but even with the ball, too. If we can control the tempo from the back, we’re going to be in really good shape.”
If Besler can do that vs. the Germans, he will take a major step toward being one of Klinsmann’s starting centerback options in the June World Cup qualifiers, and an important step toward going from being the most inexperienced of the U.S. centerbacks to vying to be the best of them.