It was a familiar place for Real Monarchs midfielder Nick Besler, but for the first two years of his professional soccer career, he would walk the halls of Providence Park in Portland as a member of the Portland Timbers and Timbers 2. On Saturday, it was his first match out of the ponderosa green of the Timbers as he suited up for his debut with the Monarchs against his former club in the USL opener.
He made it a memorable one, scoring the game-winning goal in a 2-1 Monarchs victory to open the season. Entering the 2017 season, the Monarchs took the approach of bringing in experienced USL players to help develop talent and push for first-team opportunities. Besler is chief among those and was named captain by Head Coach Mike Petke - that strategy paid dividends in the season-opening win.
“We gave Nick the captain’s band for a reason. He’s shown us in preseason that he’s mature. He has the experience and he’s a battler,” Petke said after the match. “Tonight he really stepped up and I’m personally very proud of him.”
Joining the Monarchs, Besler saw an opportunity kickstart his career in a place he felt he could be comfortable, but would also provide a challenge. He had appreciated the way things were run with RSL and the Monarchs, dating back to the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, when he was selected fifth overall by the Timbers after a successful college career at Notre Dame, where he won the College Cup in 2013.
Beyond the change of scenery, he also has a refreshed mindset going into an important season in his career.
“I’m in year three of my career and I need to start showing what I can do and we’ll see how the season goes,” said Besler, 23, noting that several of the players the Monarchs brought in have similar stories. “Experience is something that you either have or you don’t. We each bring with us something from the clubs we played at and we’re going to come together and try to make this the best possible situation for everyone.”
Besler helped lock down the midfield for the Monarchs in his debut and has shown a versatility to play several roles along the spine during preseason. That was one factor that helped attract the club to him when it looked to rebuild this offseason.
In addition to his 50 games with T2 over the last two seasons, he also worked with the first team. That meant he was on the award podium when the Timbers lifted MLS Cup in Columbus in 2015 and was there for the build-up as Portland marched through the playoffs. That environment, coupled with his College Cup title at Notre Dame, helped shape his championship mindset.
“Being in an atmosphere like that is exciting. Our year was interesting because we started out slow, but once we got it together, you could really see the wheels start turning,” he said. “It’s amazing how much momentum can play a factor in how well your team does. The training sessions were always intense – whenever you’re on a team that wins it all there is a lot of competition and it is hard to find the field.”
It may be early, but he sees similar qualities in the Monarchs locker room.
After missing the playoffs in the club’s first two seasons, the rejuvenated club has sights set on making a postseason run that got off to a good start with the convincing performance in victory on Saturday.
“This group can really make a strong push for the playoffs. We really think we have a good group of guys that can make the playoffs for the first time,” he smiled. “Once you get there, anything can happen.”