For this last Kevin Gray Awards Spotlight, all eyes turn toward Nick Besler, the 2011 Kevin Gray Male Youth Player of the Year. Since receiving the honor following his record-breaking career at Blue Valley West High School, Besler has enjoyed plenty of soccer success both at the University of Notre Dame and now with the Portland Timbers. A three-year starter while at Notre Dame, Besler certainly made an impact in the midfield for the Irish, notching spots on the All-ACC First Team and NCAA All-Tournament Team in 2013. Nick also served as team captain during his senior season, which only added to his already impressive soccer résumé. Despite all of these individual accolades, though, Besler believes that there is one team achievement that stands above the rest.
“The national championship I won my junior year is what I'm most proud of," Besler said of Notre Dame's victory over Maryland in the 2013 final. "While I have won individual awards as well, there is that feeling of accomplishing something together as a team that is much more rewarding. Winning a national championship is something that I will never forget."
The Irish won by a 2-1 scoreline and Besler assisted the goal that tied the game in the 40th minute. The following year, Notre Dame earned a #1 seed in the College Cup and advanced to the third round before falling 1-0 to eventual winners Virginia.
Although the team came up a bit short in 2014, Besler graduated from Notre Dame with his sights set on a professional soccer career—and rightly so. This past January, Nick was selected fifth overall by the Portland Timbers in the 2015 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, which made him the highest MLS draft pick in Notre Dame history. The previous owner of that distinction was Nick’s older brother, Matt -- the Sporting Kansas City team captain and World Cup veteran was selected eighth overall in 2009. Of his relationship with his brother, Nick says that “Matt has been a great role model for me…and the way he goes about his own career has been the thing that I've noticed the most.”
With regard to his time with the Timbers thus far, Nick pointed out that the main difference he has observed between college and professional soccer is the speed of play.
“Everything has to be quicker at this level,” he said, “[but] I feel like I have adjusted well to the new city and the new team.”
Looking ahead, Besler says that “my plan is to keep growing as a soccer player and continue to improve. Right now, I will continue to get minutes with [the Timbers’ USL developmental side] T2 and hopefully I will have an impact with the first team.”
Best of luck to Nick in the future! If all goes well, we at Sporting KC will look forward to potential Besler v. Besler match-ups whenever the Timbers come to town. Click here to read more about the Besler brothers’ “First Family” status within the Notre Dame men’s soccer program.