In Focus: Nik Besagno

Posted on September 14, 2011

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Football Manager afficianados will immediately perk up at the name in the title of this article. ‘Nik Besagno? Hey I’ve heard that name’ will be the line of thought in most of those FM fans’ mind. For the non-FM junkies, Nik Besagno was one of the wonderkids in the game (atleast the 2006 version). A 16 year old American, who could play either in defence or midfield, Besagno would usually be the centre of attention of the European big-wigs in the game. I vividly recall my Sunderland game with FM 2006 in which Nik Besagno developed to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the team and was constatntly bid upon by Chelsea (that gave me the glee of rejecting each and every one of their bids).

In 2005, Nik Besagno created headlines by becoming the 2nd youngest player in Major League Soccer (MLS) history (first being Freddy Adu) to be draft-picked by Real Salt Lake. He signed a ‘Generation Adidas’ contract that guaranteed him a higher pay than most of the established players in MLS. The then 16 year old Besagno claimed “I’m really excited to play for John Ellinger and Real Salt Lake. Playing with Clint Mathis and Jason Kreis and Andy Williams and all the rest of the guys will be awesome”, on being drafted by RSL. Fast forward 6 years – Jason Kreis is the head coach of Real Salt Lake, Clint Mathis is retired for well over a year now and WIlliams is still clocking the miles for RSL. Well, what about Besagno? Well, what about him indeed. This is the story of a dream gone wrong.

Besagno, a Maple Valley native, was introduced to football (or Soccer) by his father John at the age of 8. His elder brother Jacob Besagno was also a football player and would go on to play for Seattle Sounders with limited success. Besagno was scouted for the Olympic Development Program (ODP) and went with his regional team to Costa Rica to play inter-regional and international friendlies, where he was scouted by the assistant coach of the US under-17 team.  A then 15 year old Besagno would go on to be picked for the US under-17 team and started 10 of 11 international matches, scoring one goal and adding two assists in 20 appearances. In November 2004, Besagno was invited to the Under-20 camp and played 89 minutes, helping the U.S. to a 2-1 victory over Mexico just six days after celebrating his 16th birthday.

The then US U-17 coach John Ellinger would go on to become the head coach of Real Salt Lake and picked Nik Besagno in the Superdraft. Ellinger said, “After watching Nik perform during the last 8 months at the U.S. Under-17 Residency Program, I saw on a daily basis that he is a great young talent. As an organization we feel confident that he possesses the ability to be a star in this league. Nik fills a dual purpose for us at Real Salt Lake, as we build for the future and fill a need at the holding midfielder position.”  That was Besagno’s problem. At just 16, he was expected to take on the challenge of playing holding midfielder of a top-flight club. Ellinger, having seen Besagno perform admirably at the U17 level, didn’t have any issues throwing the kid into the deep end. And his GA salary of $136,500 also meant he had to start performing. To understand the ‘Generation Adidas’ concept, I would urge you to read this article. In a nutshell – the GA players earn a lot more than the other players in the league, which by itself is a source for potential disenchantment in the dressing room.

What followed next was to be expected. Besagno found the gulf in class between U17 level football and MLS was huge. In his own words, “The first day was an eye-opener. I got beat up pretty bad,” he said. “It was kind of a welcome to the league. I knew I’d be fighting for every minute.” He made only sporadic appearances for RSL in the next 2 years. In 2007, after a couple of poor seasons, John Ellinger was fired as the head coach of RSL and Jason Kreis took over. Under Kreis Besagno couldn’t get much playing time and was marginalized. In 2008 he was sent on a 90 day loan to Seattle Sounders, who were then playing in the USL, which is one rung below the MLS. Besagno played 10 games for the Sounders and returned to RSL hoping to convince the team about his worth. But what followed was frustration as he was injured and on recovery was not considered for the main team and infact was released by RSL, just 3 years into his 4 year contract. In 3 years, Besagno was able to chalk up only 8 appearances for the club.

Besagno was hoping to get himself signed with newly formed MLS team Seattle Sounders FC. He trained with the Sounders for 2 months but then the club didn’t take the option to sign him on a permanent basis. Once heralded as the next big thing, Besagno wasn’t claimed by any side in the waiver draft effectively ending his MLS dreams. It was at this time that Besagno decided to quit football and concentrate on his studies. But after 5 months without kicking a ball, he knew that football will always be his inner calling and signed for USL Premier Development League (PDL) team Tacoma Tide in 2009. The USL PDL is the fourth tier of football leagues in USA. Besagno chalked 15 appearances for Tide, scoring 2 goals. In 2010, he left Tacoma and signed for their rivals Kitsap Pumas instead. With Kitsap, Besagno has been able to play football on a consistant level and has grown to become the captain of the team and leading them to become the champions of PDL.

Soon after his drafting by RSL Besagno stated that his favorite actress is Lindsay Lohan. Kind of ironic that both their careers have dived south after 2005. At the tender age of 16, Nik Besagno had the world at his feet. But reality has proved to be rather harsh for him.

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Posted in: In Focus