Matt Besler Is Retiring; We Remember When He Frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo

We look back at when the tractor-riding Kansas boy dominated Cristiano Ronaldo.

Kansas legend and former USMNT center back Matt Besler announced his retirement on Wednesday. Besler made a club-record 348 appearances for Sporting KC, but we’ll always remember him for one night in Manaus. And one Instagram post, but we’ll get to that later.

Besler recorded 47 caps for the USMNT, including four starts at the 2014 World Cup. He made his retirement plans official with a tweet on Wednesday morning. 

The 2012 MLS Defender of the Year, Besler became an integral part of Jürgen Klinsmann’s USMNT squad in the buildup to the 2014 World Cup. The center back made his World Cup qualifying debut in a 0-0 draw at the Azteca, a rare point earned by the Americans against Mexico away from home. 

By the time the 2014 World Cup rolled around, Besler was Klinsmann’s first-choice left-sided center back, the only center back to start all four matches in Brazil. Arguably the best performance of his career came on June 22 at Arena da Amazônia in Manaus.

That night, Besler and the USMNT took on Portugal in a match the Americans simply could not afford to lose. It was a brutal, physical match, and Besler was one of the best players on the pitch.

Facing off against the reigning Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Besler was dominant against Portugal. The 27-year-old led all players with 12 clearances and five interceptions. 

On a night his center back partner Geoff Cameron was woeful, Besler stepped up and put in a massive performance. Time after time Besler was there to snuff out Portugal attacks. In the 34th minute, Besler made an important header to prevent Ronaldo from racing in on Tim Howard’s goal. In the opening 15 minutes of the second half, Besler blocked a shot from Ronaldo, cleared a cross from Silvestre Varela and broke up a counterattack near midfield to keep the U.S. in it. He made a sliding interception of a João Moutinho attempted through ball to Ronaldo in the 77th minute. 

Ronaldo was mostly quiet on the night and left frustrated, aside from a late assist when he decided to drift out of Besler’s range. All this came after Besler left the first match of the World Cup — a 2-1 win over Ghana a few days earlier — with an injury. So high was Klinsmann’s trust in Besler that he stuck with the MLS player ahead of Bundesliga defender John Brooks, who scored the winner against Ghana. 

Though Portugal scored two goals — both taking advantage of Cameron mistakes — the match ended in a 2-2 draw, good enough to send the U.S. into the knockout rounds despite a loss to eventual champion Germany in the final group-stage match. 

Besler started the Round of 16 game against Belgium, once again helping the U.S. defense keep some of the world’s best attackers at bay (with plenty of help from Howard in goal). Chris Wondolowski, who also retired this week, missed a late chance to equalize in extra time and the USMNT lost 2-1, but Besler was one of the team’s star performers at the World Cup.

The 2014 edition was the final chance for Besler to play at the World Cup. Though still playing well at 31, the U.S. failed to qualify four years later. But we’ll always remember Besler’s standout performances in Brazil, especially against Ronaldo.

As for The18’s other favorite memory of Besler, we have to go back to an Instagram post he made in 2014. 

Born and raised in Kansas, Besler was Sporting KC through and through. Though he spent his final MLS season with expansion club Austin FC, Besler is a hometown hero, both for his play in bringing home the MLS Cup in 2013 and his work with charities in Kansas City. 

Besler’s most Kansas moment came on Kansas Day, which is apparently a thing, when he showed how much of a Kansas boy he really is.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Matt Besler (@mattbesler)

Arguably one of the greatest images in the history of U.S. Soccer, up there with Brandi Chastain taking her shirt off and Oguchi Onyewu staring down Jared Borgetti. 

As Besler retires from playing soccer this week, never forget the time a tractor-riding Kansas boy dominated Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup. 

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