Kyle Beckerman is by far the longest tenured player in Major League Soccer. He’s playing his 21st season in a league that’s been around for 25. He’s seen it all, from the days of wacky penalty kicks to expansion to even more expansion. He’s played for only three teams, but been to the postseason 16 times.
And through it all, Beckerman has been a starting lineup staple. Out of 534 total games, he has started in 498 of them. One would have to go back to the early 2000s to find when he wasn’t seeing much playing time.
But in this 21st MLS season — 14th with Real Salt Lake — Beckerman, 38, has taken a back seat. He’s played in just nine of RSL’s 18 games so far in 2020, and started five of them. He’s missed three games due to suspension and two due to injury.
Beckerman, a former member of the U.S. Men’s National Team, is averaging just shy of 43 minutes per game when he does play. It’s a different role for him, but one that he’s accepted.
“Whether I’m starting, whether I’m not, I’m going to always try and bring a positive impact to the team and look to try and help out in any way I can,” Beckerman said.
Coach Freddy Juarez said some players feel that they only way they can help a team win is by actually being on the field, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Beckerman may be on the field less, but the team continues to feel his influence.
“He helps us in millions of ways,” Juarez said.
Defender Aaron Herrera attested to some of those ways. He said Beckerman is still the lead voice in the locker room, in pregame talks and huddles. He’s still one of the veterans younger players look to for advice.
Juarez said Beckerman has put together shooting drills for players that will correspond to a specific game, and he’s been OK with entering the dying minutes of a game for an extra defensive push. It’s a testament to what Beckerman has meant and continues to mean for an RSL roster that has skewed younger in recent years.
“He’s embraced his role,” Juarez said. “Does he like it? I would imagine if you asked him behind closed doors and off the record, he would say, ‘No I don’t like it, I want to play,’ because he wants to win and help the team in any capacity that he can.”
Beckerman’s work ethic is also second to none, as both Herrera and Juarez attested.
“I’ve said it many times before: It’s crazy to see him being 38 years old — I don’t know how he has so much energy,” Herrera said. “It’s a cool thing to see.”
RSL has several veteran leaders in the locker room, including Damir Kreilach and Nedum Onuoha. But those two players don’t have the institutional knowledge of MLS like Beckerman, who also has been through multiple coaching at front office changes at RSL alone.
And Salt Lake was at least somewhat at risk of losing Beckerman over this past offseason. He was out of contract and mulling his options about whether to return to the club. The front office openly expressed that they wanted him back, but that it would be his decision.
Juarez said that during that time, he spoke to Beckerman briefly about his role on the team should he decide to return. The message he received from his midfielder was he would do whatever Juarez decide was best for the team.
And for a first-time head coach in MLS, that attitude has proven invaluable to Juarez.
“If it wasn’t for him, this could’ve been a whole lot more struggle for a young coach,” Juarez said.
Beckerman has tried to stay ready and positive throughout this season. He does not consider himself the type of player that pouts and takes it personally when he is not chosen for the starting lineup, and he knows what kind of effect that has on a locker room.
“Soccer is an extremely team sport, and that goes for the 11 guys on and it goes for the 18 [or] 20 guys we got on the bench, plus the staff,” Beckerman said. “Everybody has to try and be a positive person in the locker room [and] on the field. And I think when you do that, when you have a big group that can do that, it helps become a better team.”
Juarez said Beckerman would make a good coach because of his inherent unselfishness. But until that day comes, Beckerman will continue to make an impact on and off the field because that’s just the person he is.
“He has always given me 100%, and he hasn’t stopped giving 100%, which continues to amaze me,” Juarez said. “[He] continues to want to be a student of the game. For me, that’s top human being, a top person and someone that I’m always going to remember.”
At Rio Tinto Stadium