Kragthorpe: Real Salt Lake players enjoy U.S. soccer spotlight
Kyle Beckerman walked around the Rio Tinto Stadium field Saturday afternoon, turning in every direction with his arms raised and his thumbs up as he enjoyed a hometown triumph.
So maybe this is only the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the opponent was merely Cuba. Just the same, the 4-1 victory for the U.S. men's national soccer team meant everything to Beckerman, Real Salt Lake teammates Nick Rimando and Tony Beltran and Utahns who have embraced them.
In contrast to the national team's visit in June, when Rimando and Beckerman were activated but stayed on the sideline for a World Cup qualifying win over Honduras, this was a Real celebration. The RSL fans among the crowd of nearly 18,000 created an atmosphere that the three of them will never forget.
The fans enthusiastically backed their favorites in U.S. jerseys, although only a fraction of them stayed to watch Alvaro Saborio play for Costa Rica against Belize.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann knew this convergence of opponent and venue was his cue to play Beltran with Rimando and Beckerman. "For these guys," he said, "it's special."
You'd better believed they appreciated it.
"To share it with Nick and Tony was awesome," Beckerman said.
"To do it front of these fans â¦ tons of emotions going through myself during the game and, obviously, right now," Rimando said almost an hour afterward, standing in the stadium tunnel.
The most memorable moment for the RSL threesome came in the 65th minute. Beltran played the ball to Beckerman, who stepped in front of his defender and fired a line-drive pass that Chris Wondolowski drove home for the clinching goal.
"I put it there," Beckerman said, "and he did the rest."
That's how this game works. The 31-year-old Beckerman will take all the shared success he can get at this point of his career. Having played for national teams since he was 15, he's back in that position of trying to make himself vital to Klinsmann. Whether the stage is the Gold Cup or the more meaningful World Cup cycle, he's hoping for every opportunity to contribute.
Saturday's 90 minutes could not have hurt him, let's say that.
"If you're on the team when the team wins, it helps your case," Beckerman said.
"He's been proving he can play at this level for a long time," Rimando said.
Beckerman thrives in the Gold Cup, that's for sure. In 2009, he started all six games and scored a critical goal against Panama in Philadelphia on the way to the team's second-place finish.
Of the three RSL players, Beckerman clearly is the one with the most to gain this summer. Beltran is a standard Gold Cup fill-in as a defender, while Rimando is occupying the goal only until Tim Howard returns for more important competition.
"Each game, each training session, you get more comfortable," Beltran said.
Rimando's workload was light, considering Cuba's defensive posture. He had no chance to prevent the visitors' only goal, which came via a counterattack that led to Jose Ciprian Alfonso Pita's spectacular, wraparound shot. Rimando made a couple of nice plays to stop other scoring attempts, although he was not credited with any saves.
So the three RSL players could feel good about their contributions Saturday, while their teammates were preparing for a Major League Soccer game at Dallas. Eventually, they'll all be together again, hoping to help Real continue its recent surge.
As of Saturday, RSL's Americans were just happy to be part of another winning team, performing on their home field. Klinsmann recognized a unique opportunity, and everybody made the most of it.