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2021 Player Profiles: Nick Besler

Can a defensive game manager find minutes in 2022?

San Jose Earthquakes v Real Salt Lake Photo by Lyndsay Radnedge/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Following a full four-year college career at Notre Dame from 2011-14 which included the 2013 College Cup, Nick Besler was drafted by the Portland Timbers in in 2015. His two seasons in Cascadia (2015-16) were spent playing with the Timbers II USL squad. After being released by Portland, he signed with Real Monarchs SLC in January 2017 and, then in the middle of the same season, with Real Salt Lake on August 24, 2017.

his made him one of the few players to move from Portland to Real Salt Lake instead of the more popular path to Portland. He then signed a contract extension in July of 2020 right before Real Salt Lake went into the bubble in Orlando for MLS is Back.

While playing with the Monarchs, Besler served as the team captain and played almost exclusively as a pivot in the central defensive midfield. As Real Salt Lake returned to a more normal schedule in 2018, injuries and illness left Nick playing as a center back for four matches in April and May and then another nine matches from July to October. While a position he can play, it is far from his best position and not one he is ultimately comfortable with.

However, these performances created an image of Besler in the fans’ mind that has been difficult for them to overcome even though he has only featured as a center back once since that time — on Oct. 8, 2020 against Seattle. During the 2021 season he never played in the central defender role.

Besler is pivot player with above average passing good vision of the field. Unlike some of RSL’s defensive midfielders, such as Kyle Beckerman and Everton Luiz, he tends to foul sparingly and usually in appropriate situations. He has averaged between two and three yellow cards a season, without a red card in his entire professional career.

Excluding the appearances in central defense mentioned above, Besler rarely changes a match in obvious ways but remains an effective substitution option when attempting to see out a match and preserve points.

Last season, Besler accumulated a record 1,714 minutes for Real Salt Lake in 28 appearances. This was despite the well documented late game and stoppage time heroics which characterized the 2021 Real Salt Lake season. Besler has a total of two lifetime goals for RSL and will like never be a major provider of offensive punch off the bench. As a defensive-minded game manager rather than a late game changer, we should expect Nick to get the nod in matches where RSL has a lead or the score is tied as time for substitutions comes around.

In the third year of his current contract, it is likely Nick Besler will be playing for a new or extended contract during the 2022 season. The arrival of Scott Caldwell from New England with a similar skill set — though Caldwell is two years older — will add further competition for time in the defensive midfield, although Everton Luiz remains unsigned at this time. For our benefit and his, let’s hope that level of competition in 2022 brings out the best in the entire defensive midfield and, as exciting as they have been, the new season brings games with RSL in the lead at 60 minutes and a few less last minute heroics.