Nick Besler’s game may not be flashy, but it’s exactly how Real Salt Lake benefits when he plays

Real Salt Lake defender Nick Besler. | Photo courtesy of Real Salt Lake.

Herriman • In his final start of the 2018 season, Nick Besler scored his first goal of his Major League Soccer career in exciting fashion as he slid into a cross from then-rookie Corey Baird and finished.

In his most recent start of this season, Besler was at it again, this time with a pinpoint pass from well beyond the midfield line, also to Baird, who put away the goal.

But while those two plays displayed some of what the Real Salt Lake midfielder is capable of, they’re about as showboaty as Besler gets. Normally, he likes to fly under the radar, even while replacing captain Kyle Beckerman in the starting lineup the past two games while Beckerman works to return from a hamstring injury.

“I keep it pretty simple,” Besler told The Salt Lake Tribune this week. “I'm not going to do anything crazy, anything that will really turn heads.”

That’s the job of someone at the center midfield position in the first place: a player who can defend when needed and be a release valve for attackers when no options exist. So it may come as a bit of a surprise when looking at RSL’s record when Besler steps onto the field either as a starter or reserve.

Salt Lake is 15-8-6 since the beginning of last season when Besler plays, which adds up to 51 points. It’s similar to the role Sunday “Sunny” Stephen filled for the team last year in which his impact was obvious internally, but not so much externally.

“Sometimes it’s a boring job,” Petke said. “Sometimes it’s a selfless job that doesn’t really get noticed.”

But that style of play has always been in the cards for Besler. He admits he was never the strongest or fastest player among his peers. He may not even be the most talented soccer player in his family. His older brother Matt is a staple in the starting lineup for Sporting Kansas City.

Besler said his brother gave him a good example as to what hard work can help someone accomplish. It also helped him realize he too could go pro in soccer.

“When he became a professional athlete, it did kind of open my eyes a little bit more to the possibility of that becoming— [it’s] kind of cliche — but a dream come true,” Besler said.

The start of Besler’s career, however, was rocky. The Portland Timbers drafted him fifth overall in 2015 to their first team, but he never made an appearance. Instead, he played two seasons with Timbers II, the organization’s United Soccer League side.

While Besler said his time in Portland was not a complete waste, it was the most difficult stretch of his career. At times, he questioned whether he was good enough to play professional soccer. But he tapped into his self-belief to get through it, he said, and ended up in a better situation with the Real Monarchs in 2017.

“I think spending two years there ... gave me a little bit of hunger because I wanted to play because I knew I wasn't getting a shot there,” Besler said of his time in Portland. “So when I did come to the Monarchs, I put a lot into that offseason because I knew I would be getting a good, fresh look from a different team and a different set of eyes. And I made the most of it.”

Besler’s play with the Monarchs earned him an RSL contract in August that year, leading to his current role with the first team. Sebastian Saucedo admires Besler for his ability to push through during times which he doesn’t get much playing time. That, he says, is sign of character.

“Some players give up and start thinking ‘I need to get out of here’ or get out of anywhere and some players stick to the plan and think, 'You know what, there’s going to be injuries’ — like there is now — and be able to stick through that,” Saucedo said. “So it’s just on the mentality that he’s had and he’s been great. He’s taken advantage. … He’s done a phenomenal job now playing in the midfield.”

Besler said former and current teammates like David Horst, Nedum Onuoha and Damir Kreilach have helped him build confidence and taught him how to be a good professional. He and Onuoha get along well, he said, and Onuoha has helped him realize not to put too much pressure on himself over how he plays.

Besler, who has also spent time at center back in his time with RSL, said no matter the position, he just wants to find a way to get on the field and contribute. His goal for the rest of this season and next, he said is to become a starter for RSL.

So far, in his second full season with Salt Lake’s first team, he seems well on his way to achieving that.


At Rio Tinto Stadium

Kickoff » Saturday 1 p.m. MDT


Radio » ESPN700

Last meeting » Toronto 3, RSL 1 (March 13, 2018, BMO Field)

Records » RSL 4-6-1, Toronto 5-4-2

About Toronto » The club has scored only one goal in last three games. … It sits sixth in the Eastern Conference. … Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore lead team with five goals each. … Currently on a three-game winless streak. … Averaging two goals scored per game this season.

About RSL » Captain Kyle Beckerman (hamstring) is doubtful … Everton Luiz (knee) and Nick Rimando (knee) have been upgraded to probable. … Three of Albert Rusnák’s five team-leading goals have come on penalties. … Nick Besler and Corey Baird have two assists apiece to lead team. … Damir Kreilach is one yellow card away from a one-game suspension.