June 23, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Former University of Notre Dame standout Matt Besler ('09) was back in the starting lineup for the United States Men's National Team Sunday evening in the squad's second match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a 2-2 draw with Portugal in Manaus, Brazil.
The United States fell behind in the fifth minute, but Jermaine Jones netted the equalizer in the 64th minute and Clint Dempsey gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead in the 81st minute. The U.S. appeared like they were going to capture the win and secure a spot in the Round of 16, but Portugal leveled the match in the final seconds of stoppage time (95th minute).
The U.S. still can advance to the knockout stage of the tournament when they conclude Group G play on Thursday versus Germany. A win or tie will send the Americans through and the U.S. also will advance if Ghana and Portugal draw that same day. Even if Team USA loses, they still can claim a spot in the next round based on tiebreakers with the winner of the Ghana-Portugal match.
Germany and the U.S. both have four points in the group, but Germany leads on goal differential (+4 to +1). Ghana (-1 GD) and Portugal (-4 GD) have one point each. No team from the group has yet to clinch a spot in the Round of 16.
Both the U.S.-Germany (ESPN) and Ghana-Portugal (ESPN2) matches will take place at noon (ET) on Thursday.
Besler started the World Cup opener, a 2-1 win over Ghana last Monday, but was replaced at halftime as a precaution after pulling his right hamstring late in the first half. Besler played all 90-plus minutes on Sunday against Portugal and the former Fighting Irish All-American received high praise for his performance.
In his U.S. player rankings for the match, Greg Seltzer from MLSsoccer.com gave Besler a nine (out of ten) and only Jones (9.5) was rated higher. Here is what Seltzer wrote about Besler:
Meanwhile, at left center back, the "Beast-ler" was a real monster. The Sporting KC defender easily led all players with both 12 clearances and five pass interceptions. Besler repeatedly stepped up to cut off the Portugal attack and pulled off an acrobatic header to keep Cristiano Ronaldo from breaking in alone in the 34th minute. If that all wasn't enough, he moved the ball safely and effectively with but one easily-covered exception.
"We're still disappointed," Besler told reporters after the game. "We could all taste it. We could taste the second round. We were right there. So we are disappointed. But we were on the other end of the things five nights ago in the first game. We have four points from two games, we're in control of our own destiny. Huge game against Germany in our third game. I think we like to do things the hard way. It's the American way."
Besler, Notre Dame's first former player to be named to a World Cup Final roster, earned his 19th cap with the United States since debuting in January 2013. He played in six FIFA World Cup qualifiers and all three knockout round games en route to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup championship. The U.S. is 13-1-4 with Besler in the starting lineup.
At Notre Dame, Besler played in 90 matches, including 73 starts, from 2005-08 and tallied five goals and seven assists. He earned first team All-America and first team Academic All-America honors as a senior. Besler was a three-time all-BIG EAST honoree and was named the 2008 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Scholar-Athlete of the Year.