Sporting captain Matt Besler talks inaugural KC Wiz match, at-home training, return to play and more

Sporting Kansas City captain and defender Matt Besler participated in a teleconference with local media this morning. His full remarks can be found below.


On attending the Kansas City Wiz’s inaugural MLS match in April 1996 at Arrowhead Stadium…

I was 9 years old at the time. My family was big sports fans and we had just gotten into soccer. Specifically, the 1994 World Cup in the United States was the first time that we got to watch soccer on a global scale. That’s kind of when I really fell in love with the game and started getting jerseys. My family was at the first-ever game in 1996. I don’t remember too much specifically about the game other than it being a really big stadium. I had been to Arrowhead maybe once or twice before for Chiefs games, but you definitely got a better feel for how big the stadium was when you went to Wiz games.

I remember Digital Takawira scoring the very first goal, and he did the Digital Crawl. My dad had told me about that beforehand—that we had brought in this striker, his nickname was famous and he was also famous for this celebration. So whenever he scored a goal, you had to watch him closely because he did the celebration he’s now famous for. That was a cool moment. Other htan that, there’s not a ton of detail that I can remember. I was a regular 9-year-old kid. There were some other families and friends we went to the game with—a few of my teammates who played on my youth soccer team and we all sat together.

On the challenges of staying fit while training from home in isolation…

It’s difficult. I would say the biggest challenge is finding some sort of routine. We’re habit-based athletes, and we thrive in that environment where we have some sort of competitive routine. That’s thrown out the window right now. There’s not a whole lot of routine anywhere right now—with your family, with your team, with your daily life. Everything is kind of crazy right now. That’s really the hardest part—not only finding the time and motivation to stay fit, but to be able to do it on a consistent basis, whereas when you’re in-season, everything is happening at the same time each day. You come into training into the morning and you have your routines where you warm up and stretch. Afterwards, you do your recovery routines and all of those things. We don’t really have access to any of that stuff, so we kind of have to find our own routines.

I would say the other challenge is trying to get everybody on the same page from a communication standpoint. We’re all from different parts of the country and different parts of the world. We’re all kind of experiencing this in a different way. You have guys like Gadi Kinda who actually, with his religion, he actually has to limit his use of technology from sun up to sundown (on certain holidays). It’s hard to communicate with him sometimes because during the day, he’s observing some of his religious beliefs and laws (as a practicing Jew). It just makes it a lot harder when you’re not able to see people face-to-face.

On whether he dreamed of one day playing for Kansas City while attending the club’s inaugural match in 1996…

I wish I could say yes. It would make for a much better story. Unfortunately, I can’t really say that. I don’t think I ever really had that moment where I walked into the stadium for the first time, a lightbulb went off and I was like, “This is what I’m going to do.” I was a normal 9-year-old kid, and I really wasn’t thinking about becoming a professional soccer player while I was watching that game. I was focused on trying to convince my parents to get me cotton candy and doing the macarena. I remember the macarena was huge back then. It was a huge fan-favorite, so that was really exciting.

What it did was it opened the door for me in terms of realizing how big the game was on a global scale. Up until then, soccer for me was just something that I played on my youth team with a bunch of kids from my school. Once Kansas City got this team, we started seeing these players and you got to learn about their backgrounds. They were coming from different countries and had different stories, and so that’s when I really started following the game at a much higher level.

On resisting the temptation of training with teammates the difficulty of staying in “soccer shape” while practicing alone…

We want to get together, but we have to understand that (COVID-19) is much bigger and much more important than (training as a team) at this moment. We’re in a much different spot than other parts of the country, here in Kansas City. We have a certain feeling where the guys want to get together and continue working out. If it was up to us, we would still be practicing probably. We would be open to playing games. But the landscape is much different in places like New York. If you talked to some of those players, they might have a completely different answer. Every time we get together on our Zoom workouts and yoga sessions, you can just feel the energy within the group. Everyone misses each other. Everyone is saying that we can’t wait to get started again.

Soccer is a team game, so it’s pretty hard to train by yourself. You can do workouts on the treadmill and weight workouts, but it’s almost impossible to play soccer by yourself. You can go and work on certain skills and juggle a little bit in the backyard or kick the ball against a wall, but to be honest, that’s not very much fun. It’ll take some time once we get the green light (to train as a team again). It’ll take a few weeks of training and playing together on a big field to get that final piece of fitness. That’s how it always is. Even in the offseason, you can train as hard as you want and you can be in what you think is the best shape that you can possibly be in, but then you start playing games and actual soccer and you realize, “Okay, I’m not as fit as I thought I was.” It usually takes a couple of weeks to get that final piece.

On the idea of playing all MLS matches in one specific location in order to try to get back on the field as quickly as possible…

At this point, I’d be open to pretty much anything—at least looking into it and discussing it. I don’t know if it would make a whole lot of sense to soccer to do what baseball is looking at. I just don’t know if it could work like that. But most of the players right now are anxious to get back out on the field, and any way possible for us to start playing games again sooner, we would be open to the possibility. We’re just like everyone else. We’re sitting back and seeing some of these news stories come out, we’re following other leagues and we’re seeing what they’re announcing. We saw the other day that a couple of professional soccer teams in Germany have resumed small group trainings, so that was a positive sign to see. We haven’t really heard a whole lot.

On his typical day of training at home…

We do team trainings on Zoom three times a week. There are three different groups. We have roughly 30 guys on our roster, so we split into three groups of eight to 10 guys in each workout. I’m in the first group of the day, and those trainings are at 10:30 a.m. three times a week. I do those workouts in my basement, and then the other days you’re on your own. A typical day for me is waking up with our two young daughters, and we spend about an hour with them getting breakfast ready and staring the day. I’ll try and break off myself, if I can, and get my workout in. Usually it takes an hour or two hours at the most. Then I’m back with my family for lunchtime. Then we’ll try and put the kids down (for a nap) and I’ll have an hour or two to do a lot of stuff online. I’m doing a lot with media and videos that we’re trying to push out to keep fans involved. The rest of the afternoon is pretty much family time. We’re trying to get outside as much as possible just to get fresh air. We’ll have dinner and that’s pretty much it.

I have been interacting with the coaching staff a lot. I think Peter Vermes has done a really good job staying in touch with most everyone. I know that he’s called everyone on the team a couple of times, but I probably talk to Peter every couple of days. Sometimes we’re exchanging information on the latest updates that we’ve heard. Other times it’s a quick phone call just to check in and make sure everyone’s doing alright and checking in on the family. The communication has been good.

On how he has been handling the MLS suspension and social distancing mentally…

When all of this started happening, there was definitely a sense of frustration just because we had built good momentum and put a lot of hard work into our preseason. To have something like this that’s completely out of your control, it’s a bit frustrating. For me personally, I’m past all of that now. We’re much farther along than we were at the beginning. I wouldn’t say that I’m mentally frustrated anymore. There’s nothing we can really do about it. At first, you were really adamant about trying to stay in game shape as best as you could. But now it’s been so long that we’re going to have to have some sort of period where we get back to training and have at least a couple of weeks of preseason. Mentally, I wouldn’t say that I’ve dropped off at all, but there’s not a whole lot we can do anymore. We just have to wait it out and try and stay positive and be patient. It’s a lot easier said than done at this point.

On being equipped to deal with this situation as an MLS veteran…

One of the challenges is that the guys on the team are all in different situations. Some guys have a house and a backyard where they can go out and get some fresh air. Other guys are living in apartments downtown. Some guys are from Kansas City and other guys have spent a month in Kansas City and this is a completely foreign city to them. Every guy is different, but there are challenges that go along with whatever stage of life you’re in. If I was younger, looking back, I would probably be even more frustrated. I’d feel like people were taking away all of this work that I’d done and some of these opportunities that were in front of me. I would want to be on the field playing and trying to prove myself to make it. Maybe some guys are in the final years of their contracts and they’re thinking, “Well, if we don’t play games, then how am I going to prove myself that I deserve another contract?” All of that is going through everyone’s mind, just in different ways. Something like this has never happened before, so I think everyone’s kind of dealing with it the best they can. Whenever we do start playing, I think everyone will really be looking forward to that moment.

On Sporting KC partnering with the Chiefs and Royals to #LightItBlue

It’s awesome. For me, that’s one of the best parts about being from Kansas City and being a part of this community. We’ve always done a good job in Kansas City of coming together in certain times. A lot of times, you can see examples through sports of how our city comes together, especially in the last 10 years with us, the Royals and the Chiefs winning championships. It’s been a pretty fun time to be part of the sports community here in Kansas City, and I think that we’ve all played a very small part in that. It’s a fun city to be a part of, and everyone here has a lot of pride for the city and for their sports teams. We are all fans of each other, we’re all following each other and rooting for each other. If this helps us as a city come together and provide something to feel connected to, then I’m all for it. I think it’s a great idea.

On the prospect of playing two matches per week once the season resumes…

We’re in a fortunate situation because our season just started. If you’re the NBA, you’ve already played three quarters of your season, and now what do you do? They’re in a tougher situation than we are. Once we know when we’re able to come back and start training and playing games, we’ll have a better idea of what’s possible. The players want to play as many games as possible. We want to have the most games in our season as possible, so whatever it takes for that to happen, I would say most of the guys would be for it. If we were playing (two games a week) throughout the entire season, we would for sure have to use our entire oster. There’s no question about that. I think it would be a much different season than we’re all accustomed to.

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