KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent and the Grenadines — After training on Thursday, U.S. defender Matt Besler got back to his room at the resort where the team is staying here and had a message from his wife, Amanda, on his cell phone. Her communication was simple: CALL ME ASAP.
“I had that feeling that something was happening,” Besler said on Friday with a smile.
He was right. Despite a shaky phone connection, Besler got through to his wife, who thought her water had broken. He helped talk her through getting to the hospital in the Kansas City area, and sure enough, she was about to go into labor. “Then through the night she labored,” Besler said, “and our baby girl was born around 6:45 local time this morning.”
Their first child, Parker Rhea Besler, joined the world on Sept. 2, 2016, healthy just like her mother. And while that will always be the Besler family headline for a momentous day, her pops just happened to score his first international goal for the U.S. a few hours later in a 6–0 World Cup qualifying victory over St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
After the game, still holding the ball that he scored with, Besler relayed the emotions and events he had been experiencing over the previous 24 hours.
“She wasn’t due for about two more weeks, so it was a bit of a surprise,” said Besler. “I always knew that it was a risk coming down here. At the same time, you have to live your life … There was about a 48-hour window where I knew I was pretty much stuck here just due to the travel conditions and it would have been impossible to get back in time. That’s why I decided to stay.”
On Thursday night, Besler informed coach Jurgen Klinsmann about the situation, and they met again on Friday morning after the birth was official. Klinsmann was planning to start Besler at centerback in the absence of John Brooks, but he wanted to hear Besler’s thoughts first.
“I obviously asked him, ‘How do you feel?’” Klinsmann said. “‘Are you all good?’ Because that’s a special thing.”
“‘I’m 1,000 percent focused,’” Klinsmann said Besler replied, “‘and I’m totally happy.’”
“Then he scored that goal,” said Klinsmann after the game. “It’s a nice story.”
To say that Besler rarely scores is an understatement. Until Friday, he had never scored for the U.S. in 35 appearances and had only scored three goals in his 206-game MLS career. But in the 32nd minute of a 1–0 game, Graham Zusi’s free kick was cleared—well, miscleared—toward Besler at the far post.
“It’s just one of those plays where you’re pretty much in the right place at the right time,” Besler said. “But on that play, for whatever reason, I could feel the ball gravitating to me at the back post, so I was ready for it.”
He took a touch off his chest and buried the finish like a striker. When his teammates came over afterward, they all did the “rocking the baby” goal celebration made famous by Brazil’s Bebeto when he scored against the Netherlands in the 1994 World Cup. “It just came naturally, I guess,” said Besler, who joked that he doesn’t normally prepare goal celebrations beforehand. “Once you become a dad, it’s just instinct to do that.”
Klinsmann said he expected that Besler would travel back to Kansas City on Saturday to rejoin his family and meet his baby girl. Besler said he had been speaking to his wife on the phone almost every hour on Friday—except for the two hours in which he was scoring his first international goal and helping the U.S. keep a clean sheet.
“It’s amazing, it really is,” Besler said. “It’s hard to explain how I was feeling this morning. Obviously, a big part of me would have liked to be at home, to be there and to witness it and to be with my wife. But at the same time, I was just so excited to play in the game. I really felt special today, and I’m just glad things worked out and I made the most of it.”
Besler looked down at the special ball he was holding.
“It’s a day that I’m always going to remember, and there’s a couple things that made it special,” he said. “I’m glad I get to take this [ball] home, because this doesn’t happen very often for me. And I’m going to make sure Parker’s name goes on this ball and we put it in her nursery.”