For RSL's stars, Gold Cup is chance to make an impression
Kyle Beckerman waited anxiously for his chance.
It was September 2009, and more than 19,000 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium were watching the U.S. fight to keep a 2-1 lead over El Salvador. After nearly 80 minutes of play, Beckerman got his shot.
It was worth the wait.
"It was such an amazing feeling," Beckerman said this week. "The place erupted."
The Real Salt Lake midfielder likely won't have to wait so long for his next opportunity to represent his country in front of his home fans. Beckerman and RSL teammate Nick Rimando have started for the U.S. in the team's last two matches, and seem a lock to start again when Gold Cup play continues with the U.S. taking on Cuba on Saturday afternoon in Sandy.
For Rimando, a regular national team call-up, it would be the first time seeing action in an international match held in Utah.
"It will be a little weird wearing a different crest," the goalkeeper said, "but once you cross those lines, I'm familiar with those fans and the field."
The Cubans are coming off a 3-0 loss to Costa Rica, and the U.S. will be looking to continue an offensive barrage that has seen the team outscore its opponents 12-1 over its last two games.
"If you don't get early goals, these teams can stay in it, get confidence and you find yourself in a dogfight," said Beckerman, who provided an assist in the team's win over Belize.
For Beckerman, Rimando and RSL defender Tony Beltran, there are team and personal goals to be achieved.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann "has made it clear to us that this is a very important tournament," Rimando said. "Mexico's taken the cup the last two years. We want it back. We want to be the best in the region. We want to put soccer back on the map, where U.S. soccer should be."
The United States' toughest tests in the tournament are likely to come from Mexico and Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio's Costa Rica team, which will play Belize in the second half of Saturday's doubleheader at Rio Tinto at 4 p.m.
And with the World Cup a year away, players are trying to win spots on the United States' first-team roster.
"I want to show the coaches that I belong in this group, that I deserved to be called in and that I deserve to be called in in the future," Beltran said.
Rimando, meanwhile, has said that this could be his last chance at a World Cup spot.
"I just play every day like it's my last," he said. "My role right now is different than when Timmy [Howard] and Brad [Guzan] are in, but any role Jurgen will give me to be part of this team I'll take. Right now it's on the field and doing my duties there. And when it's not, I'll do my duties off the field."
CONCACAF Gold Cup
P USA. vs. Cuba
At Rio Tinto Stadium
Kickoff •Â Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 13
About the U.S. • Roster features Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Tony Beltran. ... Landon Donovan, the country's all-time leader in goals and assists, now has 51 of each, but is still trying to work his way back into coach Jurgen Klinsmann's good graces after taking a self-imposed sabbatical. ... Forward Chris Wondolowski scored a first-half hat trick against Belize. ... Team is on a six-game winning streak, its second longest ever. ... This is the U.S. men's national team's second trip to Rio Tinto this summer. ... Tickets are still available for Saturday's doubleheader.
About Cuba •Â Coming off a 3-0 loss to Costa Rica. ... Qualified for the tournament by taking first in the 2012 Caribbean Cup. ... Cuba is 1-13-2 all-time in Gold Cup play, and is riding an 11-game winless streak dating back to 2003. ... In the Gold Cup, Cuba has allowed 53 goals while scoring only 11.
Costa Rica vs. Belize
P At Rio Tinto Stadium
Kickoff •Â Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV • Fox Soccer
About Costa Rica • Captained by Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio. ... Coming off a 3-0 win over Cuba, thanks in part to two goals from Michael Barrantes. ... Along with Mexico and the U.S., one of the favorites to win the tournament. ... Best Gold Cup finish came in 2002, when Costa Rica was the runner-up.
About Belize •Â Looking to rebound from a 6-1 loss to the United States. ... This is the nation's first time in the Gold Cup. ... Deon McCauley led the team with 11 goals in eight games in World Cup qualifying, though Belize failed to advance past the second round.