MLS playoffs: Kyle Beckerman's return lifts Real Salt Lake's spirits
Kyle Beckerman is physical and passionate. Typically, he's also smart.
Beckerman's presence is important if Real Salt Lake wants to make a deep run in the MLS playoffs, which begin Saturday against visiting Seattle.
Only one time this season has the feisty Real Salt Lake midfielder and captain been overcome with more rage than the intelligence that made him a favorite of U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
On what became a dark Oct. 28, after repeated kicks and clips to the back of his heels by Chicago Fire midfielders, Beckerman lost control, turned and in a fit of pique, rammed his head into the chin of Daniel Paladini.
That momentary loss of control resulted in a red card and a three-game suspension. RSL was not the same team afterward, missing his playmaking as well as the veteran's ability to break up opposing attacks.
"Beckerman makes a big difference to their team," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid told MLSsoccer.com. "When he comes in there, he's not only a good player, but he's also, I think, their emotional leader."
Always a team player, Beckerman lifted his game even higher this season. When teammate Javier Morales went down with a fractured and dislocated ankle in May, Beckerman took on Morales' duties.
As a result, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound player had a career year with nine assists. Prior to this season, three was his highest number of assists.
Prior to his suspension, Beckerman's name was bandied about as a league Most Valuable Player candidate.
"Kyle made pretty big strides this year in a lot of ways up," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "Until the suspension, he was our most consistent performer, somebody who was in talks for MVP consideration and deserved that.
"He had taken a lot of the burden of not having Javier on his own shoulders and stepped up his game. Now he has an opportunity to lead this team to the next level."
Seattle (18-7-9) and RSL (15-11-8) split the season series with each team winning 2-1 at the other's stadium. On May 28, the Sounders snapped RSL's record 29-match home unbeaten streak.
Real, in the end, thanks to a six-game winless run to finish the season, eventually wound up in third place in the Western Conference, 10 points behind second-place Seattle.
"Him being back on the field is a huge presence for us," RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "His leadership qualities and feistiness out there give us a boost. He covers so much ground and he knows his position so well. Just to see him out there with Javier again on the same page â¦ is definitely good news for sure."
For his part, Beckerman has not discussed the incident against Chicago, other than to issue an apology through the team.
Yet, even as he demurred to a team analogy, it is easy to read between the lines.
"It's just another [season] in the books," Beckerman said. "I look at it as a team. I don't look at it as myself. We're all looking to get better. We'll be stronger for it, through all the ups and downs."
Beckerman has grown to be a force in Major League Soccer since first joining the Miami Fusion in 2000. Two years later, after the Fusion folded, Beckerman joined Colorado.
RSL fans wasted little time focusing their hate on the Rapids' physical midfielder, who regularly kicked their team's behind.
That all changed when Beckerman was abruptly traded to RSL in 2007. He was the guy you loved to hate until he became one of yours.
"Every coach has his own view of things and I have known Kyle since he has been playing in MLS, and I have always followed him and always liked his style of play because he is a one-thousand-percent team player," Klinsmann told Reuters. "He is a player that gets the job done and that is what I want to see from him and why I have called him into this group again."
Beckerman's arrival, as well as that of Morales, also signaled a change in RSL's fortunes. The team went to the playoffs in 2008, won the MLS Cup in 2009 and was among the league favorites to win again last season before an unceremonious first-round exit.
Now, in what has been RSL's most volatile season, Beckerman is back to ignite what he believes will be another playoff run.
"We got third in the league, which is pretty good," he said. "We've been in the top three the past two years, which is pretty good. We're improving. Not too long ago we weren't even close to the playoffs. Now we have expectations, and that's good."
• The midfielder scored three goals for RSL while adding a career-high nine assists this season.
• Came to RSL in 2007 after a trade with Colorado.
• Has 13 goals for RSL and 24 overall in MLS play.
• Became a starter in 2011 for U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
P Seattle at RSL
Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • Fox Soccer
Beckerman's red card
O For a YouTube clip of Kyle Beckerman's red card against the Chicago Fire on Oct. 28, visit