Would Matt Besler Have Been Successful in the Premier League?

John D. HalloranContributor IIJuly 22, 2014

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 26: Matt Besler of the United States acknowledges the fans after losing to Germany 1-0  during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil group G match between the United States and Germany at Arena Pernambuco on June 26, 2014 in Recife, Brazil.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

On Saturday, after weeks of reported interest from teams abroad, as per MLSsoccer.com's Greg Seltzer (via Pro Soccer Talk's Kyle Bonn), it was announced that Sporting Kansas City and United States men's national team defender Matt Besler had signed a designated player contract with Major League Soccer and would remain in the league for the time being.

According to Seltzer, interest in Besler had come from at least 10 European clubs, including one in the Bundesliga and Sunderland in the English Premier League.

But, if things had turned out differently and Besler had chosen to move abroad to a top European league, would he have been successful?

Examining Besler's MLS record reveals that he is clearly one of the top defenders in the league. He was MLS' Defender of the Year in 2012 and an All-Star in three of the last four seasons. 

Those accomplishments compare very favorably to other American defenders who have made the move abroad successfully in the past, including former MLS Defender of the Year Carlos Bocanegra, who played in Europe for a decade and was a fan favorite for five seasons with Fulham in the EPL.

Michael Parkhurst is also a former MLS Defender of the Year and found success abroad with Nordsjaelland, where he won two Danish cups, a league title and played in the UEFA Champions League.

Besler's accomplishments in MLS also dwarf those of former Houston Dynamo man Geoff Cameron, who has found consistent success at Stoke City in the EPL—and whom Besler outplayed in the 2014 World Cup.

May 1, 2014; Kansas City, KS, USA; Matt Besler holds the US Flag while wearing the US National Soccer Team uniform at Sporting Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary Rohman/Sporting KC-USA TODAY Sports

But accomplishing anything in MLS is open to criticism by those who believe the league is inferior. So, looking at Besler's accomplishments on the international level may provide more insight.

Since emerging with the U.S. squad in 2013, Besler quickly became the most consistent defender on the American team during World Cup qualifying and was easily the Americans' best center back in the 2014 World Cup.

In Brazil, Besler did well against the talented and speedy front line of Ghana, helped hold Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in check against Portugal (both of Portugal's goals can be laid at Cameron's feet) and limited World Cup champions Germany to just a single goal.

The German attack against the U.S. and Besler in the final group-stage game included Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Toni Kroos in the starting XI with Miroslav Klose, Mario Goetze and Andre Schurrle coming into the match off the bench. Three of those players were from Bayern Munich, two from Arsenal and one each from Chelsea and Lazio.

Additionally, two of those German players were 2014 World Cup Golden Ball nominees, another is the all-time record holder for goals scored in the World Cup and another scored the game-winning goal in this year's World Cup final. Those seven players also accounted for six of Germany's seven goals in their semifinal thrashing of Brazil.

It's pretty hard to argue that Besler couldn't handle himself in the EPL when he proved he can play against attackers of that caliber.

Some might point to the game against Belgium, where again Besler and the U.S. faced a "who's who" of attackers, this time including Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

In the match, Belgium scored twice in extra time, and both times, Lukaku got the better of Besler. But to think that means Besler couldn't make it in the EPL is ludicrious.

First, Lukaku was subbed into the game against the U.S. in the 91st minute. At that point, not only had Besler already played a full match, but the U.S. had played four matches in the tournament against the toughest possible opponents with a brutal travel schedule.

The Belgians, by contrast, had cruised through their group, and Lukaku was coming into the game fresh and ready to run at the American defense.

Lukaku, who is 6'3" and 210 pounds, also happens to be one of the world's elite strikers. Not only did he take advantage of Besler in Brazil, but he happened to score 16 goals this past season for Everton, including two goals against EPL champions Manchester City, two goals against Arsenal and a goal against Liverpool. It's obvious that Lukaku is already capable of scoring against the EPL's premier center backs.

Lukaku is also renowned for his pace and strength, and to blame Besler for not being able to handle the Belgian striker in extra time is an unfair criticism.

The fact is, Besler has proven over the past two years that he is a more than capable international center back and thereby capable of handling playing in a top European league.

In the 2014 World Cup, he was excellent in the Group of Death, where he was matched up against the speedy attack of the Ghanaians, a Portuguese team which included FIFA's World Player of the Year and a German side which not only won the entire tournament but did it with perhaps the greatest compilation of footballing talent ever seen on one team.

It was because of those performances that Besler was being sought out by so many European sides, and there's no reason to think he couldn't have done the same thing week in and week out in the EPL.


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