A pair of gloves set the shift in motion.
A young Kyle Beckerman reached and grabbed some gloves Tony Meola handed out to the crowd. It was that moment when Todd Beckerman noticed a switch in his kid brother. The two Beckerman boys grew up simultaneously obsessed with wrestling and soccer. But soaking in a World Cup as a young soccer fan and noticing the selflessness — and to him, the appeal — of the style of soccer, the younger Beckerman gravitated further. Todd said it’s a question that is often brought up, of how the two sports morphed into such priorities and then went separate ways.
Which is a drawn parallel similar to the the brothers as Beckerman is playing the undoubtedly the best and most important soccer of his 32 years in Brazil with the U.S. men’s national team and Todd is the head wrestling coach at Brown University.
"I think he liked that team aspect and really excelled in it," Todd Beckerman told me before departing for Brazil, his bags packed with the all sorts of Beckerman-centric USMNT gear.
In two World Cup matches against two of the better teams the world has to offer, Real Salt Lake’s captain has shown he belongs. Often a source of angst and ire among the USMNT fan base in recent years of being too slow or not dynamic enough, Beckerman’s presence against Ghana and Portugal in the midfield is allowing everyone else around him to excel. As ironic as irony is, Beckerman’s performances in a position that draws significantly less sex appeal than a Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley haven’t gone under the radar. As the Americans were under it for much of the match against Ghana, Beckerman was there. Media personalities and fans noticed. As the Americans were pushing for an equalizer Sunday against Portugal in the Amazon, Beckerman’s spacing and positioning allowed the freedom for Jermaine Jones to continue a phenomenal run in this tournament. Again, the same thing.
Former teammate and USMNT staple Pablo Mastroeni told me Beckerman is, in his mind, "the best pure defensive midfielder this country’s ever produced."
"He’s one of the rare breeds when you’re going up against him in [MLS], to mention a defensive midfielder is a really weird thing," Mastroeni continued. "You only mention those players when they make an impact on every team they play for."
Beckerman’s impact through two matches and four points earned cannot — and probably should not — be undersold. The ever-increasing tactical side of soccer fandom has positively showered Beckerman’s abilities in the win against Ghana and draw against Portugal. He completed 53-of-58 passes against the Portuguese Sunday — a 90-percent completion outing. More importantly, his stability and sense has given Jurgen Klinsmann reason to experiment and not play it safe. Without Beckerman sitting in front of a still-developing back line, Klinsmann might’ve had to put Jermaine Jones there or keep Michael Bradley deeper rather than more dedicated to the attack.
It’s been a World Cup in which the Beckerman clan and friends and RSL supporters alike can revel in. Major League Soccer has seen the dreadlocked midfielder roam fields all over the country for the last 14 seasons and his abilities have evolved during his seven years in Utah. Todd Beckerman said growing up on the wrestling mat helped. It showed his brother that no matter who the opponent is, you keep your eyes squarely on them.
It’s an approach Kyle Beckerman assured wouldn’t venture away.
"You kind of must keep an even-keel out there and keep the pressure out," Todd Beckerman said. "That’s one area that he’s done a great job of, is just going out and playing. He knows that there’s pressure out there from the fans, but he knows that is their expectation and that the team’s is still the same: We’re going to play together if everyone does their job."
When Kyle Beckerman chopped down Cristiano Ronaldo early in the match Sunday, he patted the superstar’s shoulder as he fixed his socks as if he was anyone else he’s faced in the 24 years since he fell hard for the sport. Nothing really changes with the RSL captain and now USMNT star.
He finds his spots and he cools things as they heat up. On a Thursday morning in Recife, Kyle Beckerman will again be tasked to throw ice on the flames as a motivated Germany team and the U.S. battle for spots into the knockout Round of 16.
"When you see an athlete get 100 percent out of everything they have, they should get rewarded and that’s exactly what Kyle has done," said ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman.
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