Austin FC: Besler addition will help another star get born

Austin FC (Photo by Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Austin FC (Photo by Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /

Austin FC has a cagey long-term strategy for picking up defender Matt Besler

Defender Matt Besler has appeared in almost 300 regular-season MLS matches as he heads to Austin FC for the team’s 2021 maiden season. Team sporting director Claudio Reyna is right calling Besler a proven defender. He adds that the former Sporting Kansas City captain will provide leadership for the expansion Texas team.

During 12 seasons at Sporting KC, he figured prominently in the 2013 MLS Cup and three U.S. Open Cups. As the team won No. 1 seed in the Western Conference this season, he appeared in only 10 games. The best of those games was a start against Houston Dynamo. He won four aerials, got in two tackles, and figured in the team’s passing success for a 4-0 shutout on the road.

But to get to that No. 1 seed, the team built around another formation that changed out most of the backline. The captain armband went to forward Johnny Russell. And Besler ended the season without a contract until Austin FC called. Besler earned 47 caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team, spent 12 seasons with Sporting KC, and appeared in winning U.S. Open Cup CONCACAF Gold Cup campaigns. Across his career, he’s named as one of the best defenders in MLS.

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So now, don’t expect him to deliver any less than competent service on the initial Austin FC backline. Yet, he won’t be anywhere near the best defender on the pitch physically. That’s why his service was reduced to 10 games last season.

But he hasn’t forgotten anything. Rather than keying on Besler, the Austin side will end up rationing his pitch-time with two other center-backs on the roster. Those two are Julio Cascante and Jhohan Romana.

Cascante came in a trade with Portland. Romana joined the roster from Club Guarani in Paraguay. Who gets the time on the pitch will depend on expectations of what the opponents will do, and how Besler and the others spark up practices.

Besler is graded low on tackles in scouting reports but demonstrates outstanding strength in passing and aerial duels. Cascante made a name for himself dribbling and blocking the ball. But he also gets low marks in tackling. But it’s Jhohan Romana that the club’s betting their roll on to become a center-back star in MLS. He made 30 appearances with Guarani, including 12 in Copa Libertadores.

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Austin head coach Josh Wolff assures that Romana has all the physical tools for dueling, control and disorganizing opponents. What he can’t yet predict is whether they can make good on the player’s potential. With Besler and Cascante coming in, there’s every chance that Jhohan Romana will provide the backline impact the team wants. If Romana watches when the two experienced MLS defenders make plays, it’ll all happen for Austin FC.