Kyle Beckerman walked happily through the tunnel of Rio Tinto Stadium, satisfied to have helped the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team win a soccer game last July.
So maybe this was just a lower-tier competition, with basically a "B" team beating Cuba in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, yet Beckerman made an impression.
"If you’re on the team when the team wins," he said that afternoon, "it helps your case."
But who could have seen this coming, 11 months later? Beckerman may start as a midfielder for the USMNT in the team’s World Cup opener Monday vs. Ghana in Brazil.
So if Real Salt Lake fans liked watching Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Tony Beltran play for the Americans vs. Cuba in a lower-tier event, imagine the enjoyment of seeing Real’s captain perform at this level. Of course, if the USMNT advances from group play, that will delay the return of Beckerman and Rimando to an RSL team that clearly needs them when the Major League Soccer schedule resumes June 28 — especially with Alvaro Saborio having broken his foot during Costa Rica’s World Cup preparation.
But those temporary personnel losses are no reason for RSL supporters to cheer against the Americans. They should revel in whatever success Beckerman enjoys in Brazil, after all he’s done for his club team and everything it took for him to get into this position at age 32.
Rimando is the No. 3 U.S. goalkeeper, unlikely to participate in the World Cup. So he’ll be fresh and eager to play when he returns. Beckerman may be worn down somewhat physically and emotionally, depending on how the rest of June plays out for him, but the MLS regular season lasts until late October and there’s enough time for him to blend in again with RSL.
More than anything, Beckerman deserves this recognition for his long service with various U.S. national teams, starting when he was 15, and for his steady rise in MLS. There’s no overstating what this guy has meant to RSL, leading the team to six straight playoff appearances, including an MLS Cup championship in 2009 and another berth in the final last December.
Beckerman is part of Utah’s soccer culture now, a symbol of the franchise’s permanence. He was here for the team’s first practice at Rio Tinto Stadium in October 2008, when he looked around and said appreciatively, "This stadium’s going to demand nothing less than a winning team."
He’s delivered, with the help of a lot of other people in the organization. And now it’s his turn to be rewarded.
Beckerman’s absence already has hurt RSL this month, which speaks to his value. But don’t forget that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann once did Real a favor, leaving Beckerman home from a game against Costa Rica in September 2011. The next night, Beckerman produced a goal and his corner kick led to another score in an important 2-1 win over Philadelphia.
Nothing suggested at the time that Beckerman would become so vital to the U.S. cause, growing beyond his status as just another player in the pool.
Same story last June, when Beckerman was activated for a 1-0 victory over Honduras in a World Cup qualifier at Rio Tinto, but stayed on the bench.
So when he played all 90 minutes of the 4-1 win over Cuba in the Gold Cup and assisted Chris Wondolowski for a clinching goal, that appeared to be Beckerman’s crowning moment for this World Cup cycle. But here he is, positioned to play a meaningful role on the sport’s biggest stage.
According to the betting odds, the U.S. team has only a 26 percent chance of advancing from Group G, so the chances of Beckerman and Rimando returning home soon are good.
But the longer they stay in Brazil, the better for them and RSL — no matter how much they’re missed.
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