Longtime RSL defender Tony Beltran, slowed by chronic knee problems, announces his retirement

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Real Salt Lake's Tony Beltran at the club's media day in Sandy, Saturday January 23, 2016.

A little over a month before the 2019 season started, Tony Beltran was aglow. He had just endured a grueling recovery from two knee surgeries and finally felt like himself again, able to play the game he’s loved since his Southern California youth.

But at some point in preseason, that same knee started giving him trouble. He’d sit out and rehab for a while and make it to a training session or two, then have a setback. And another. And another. It became clear around the team that he was likely not coming back this season.

Then on Sunday morning, the 31-year-old Beltran announced he was done with soccer for good. In a letter to fans posted online and in a full-page advertisement in The Salt Lake Tribune, he said goodbye to the RSL fans that supported him for his 12-year career, as well as the city he now calls home.

“The end brings peace and understanding,” Beltran wrote. “All those nights chasing shadows in the dark, they were leading me, to where I was meant to be. To the most beautiful place on earth, home.”

At the end of the 2019 season, which is just five games away, Beltran will have played 12 seasons in Major League Soccer — all with RSL. He was drafted third overall by in 2008.

(Michael Mangum | Special to the Tribune) Real Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran (2) leaps over a sliding Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell (24) during their MLS match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT on Saturday, September 16, 2017.

RSL assistant coach Ted Eck, who has been with the organization since 2014, told The Salt Lake Tribune that Beltran knew in July, after a third setback with his knee, that it would be difficult to return this year. Reports on Beltran’s condition by head athletic trainer Theron Enns confirmed that notion, Eck said.

“We had been optimistic all along,” Eck said. “Although in the back of our mind, we’d known it’s been a long time that Tony’s been out. And all of us being players, we know once you’re out for such an extended period of time, it’s challenging to get back into the form that you were once in before the injury.”

Eck praised Beltran for his professionalism throughout the years, which he said he had seen not only as one his coaches, but from before he joined RSL.

“He was a steady player, performed consistently well every game and was an excellent pro as far as his attitude and what he would have to share in the locker room and his open-mindedness to information from coaches,” Eck said.

Soccer analyst Brian Dunseth, who played with RSL in 2005, called Beltran “an incredible player and an even better person.”

“No matter how his career ended, Tony Beltran would be missed in the locker room and on the field because of his leadership qualities,” Dunseth told The Tribune. “Honored to get to know him over the years and call him a friend.”

Nick Rimando took to Twitter to thank his longtime teammate, and even made a joke pointing to one of Beltran’s most well-known aspects of his personality.

“More than an athlete, More than a teammate. This guys defines professionalism. Thanks for helping pave the way @tonybeltran23,” Rimando wrote. “Now can we get this guy a @Marvel deal!”

Beltran finishes his career with an MLS championship in 2009, starting 230 of 245 games. He scored one goal and added 12 assists.