Kyle Beckerman’s career as a North American soccer player has been so impactful that it has even touched those who don’t follow the sport at all. That much is evidenced by what a Twitter user wrote when Beckerman announced his retirement.
“I am not a soccer fan at all,” Joe Krueger wrote. “Don’t follow the sport one iota, but I know who Kyle Beckerman is. That should say a lot of him.”
Beckerman, the longest tenured Major League Soccer player, hung up his boots Monday and brought an end to a career that lasted 21 of the league’s 25 seasons in existence. Beckerman played 13 and a half seasons with Real Salt Lake.
Beckerman was a nine-time MLS All-Star and won the MLS Cup with RSL in 2009. He finishes his career as the field player with the most games played (498), games started (461) and minutes played (41,164).
The midfielder could have reached 500 games during the 2020 season, but there were stretches where he was injured. He also played a reduced role last season that meant he would not start or play as many minutes as he had in previous years — a role he embraced.
By the end of the season, even when healthy, he wasn’t seeing the field. That, in part, led to his decision to retire, he told media members.
Beckerman’s announcement was replete with gratitude toward teammates, coaches and fans. There was some reflection over what he learned throughout 21 years of playing professional soccer.
“This game has given me so much,” Beckerman wrote in a letter. “Many teammates have become my brothers. I’ve learned life lessons spending my days in locker rooms and on training grounds. I know that being a good-hearted person is central to being a good teammate, how nothing is achieved individually without being together, and that athletes can transcend sports to make a difference.”
But in comments to media, he went into more detail about his emotions surrounding retirement. He mentioned that in the offseason before 2020, he was out of contract and for a couple of weeks, he thought he might not return to RSL.
So in a way, Beckerman was already primed to think of what his life would be like without soccer. The eventual decision to retire, therefore, was ultimately not difficult.
“I was at peace with it,” Beckerman said. “This year, just talking with my family and just kind of figuring out what’s next, when we decided that this was right, it felt right.”
Throughout his tenure with RSL, the club made the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons. He was named captain of the club in 2008, and held that title through 2020.
The team also made the final in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League, 2013 U.S. Open Cup and 2013 MLS Cup. Beckerman’s teammates named him MVP of the squad four times.
“There aren’t words to describe the impact Kyle has had on our club, MLS and this community,” RSL general manager Elliot Fall said in a statement. “When you think of Real Salt Lake, you think of Kyle Beckerman. He is a legend. There will never be another like him. This is the end of an era, but I’m sure the next chapter from Kyle will be special as well. That’s the kind of person he is.”
Other than being a fixture on the field for more than a dozen years in Utah, he has also been a fixture in the community. Last year, he helped Utahns in the Navajo Nation get electricity for the first time.
“Kyle Beckerman is an American hero — one of his club, Utah, U.S. Soccer and our country itself,” said assistant GM Tony Beltran, who was Beckerman’s teammate. “He embodies a bygone era in MLS, one where vigor and passion are at the forefront of a primal need to vie for conquest. We will never see his like again.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber was one of the many who tweeted well wishes to Beckerman.
“Kyle Beckerman’s contributions to our League and Real Salt Lake have been legendary,” Garber wrote. “On the field he’s one of the League’s 25 best. And his impact off the field has been enormous.”
Beckerman was named one of MLS’s 25 all-time best players earlier this month.
Beckerman started his career in 2000 with the Miami Fusion at just 18 years old. Two years later, he was selected in a dispersal draft by the Colorado Rapids, where he played for six and a half years before getting traded to RSL.
Beckerman also tallied 58 appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team. He played in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a team that also included Nick Rimando, who retired last year.
Beckerman doesn’t know exactly what comes next, but he didn’t rule out continuing with the RSL organization as a coach or in some other capacity. But in the meantime, he’ll focus on the other aspects of his life.
“I’m a father, I’m a husband, brother, son — trying to do my best in all those roles,” Beckerman said. “I’ll figure out things to do. [This] gives me more time for dog walks, fishing. I’ll figure out stuff to do. I’m going to miss some soccer stuff no matter what. That’s just what it is. But there’s plenty out there that I can get into.”