Orem • Kyle Beckerman isn’t the nostalgic type.
The recently retired legend of Real Salt Lake and Major League Soccer has spent practically his whole life on soccer fields — from the dog days of MLS to the highest levels of the U.S. Men’s National Team — and has never had much time to look back. His mind has always been on the next training session, the next game, the next flight, the next workout.
“That’s how life’s been for the last 21 years playing,” Beckerman said.
And that’s how life is now at Utah Valley University, where he is the head coach of the men’s soccer team.
“I just keep moving forward. I just don’t look back a ton.”
RSL’s last home game of the 2021 regular season is Wednesday against the Portland Timbers, one the club really needs to win to keep its playoff hopes alive. That night has been dubbed “Kyle Beckerman Night,” and will feature various Beckerman-themed events and promotions.
Meanwhile, Beckerman is in the midst of his first season as UVU’s head coach, one in which his team is 8-5-2 and sporting a better record on the road than at home. The last game of the season for the Wolverines before the Western Athletic Conference tournament is just two days after his big night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
So it stands to reason that, when asked about how he feels about RSL honoring him, Beckerman said he was “thankful” before deflecting the attention away from himself.
“I don’t need any praise,” Beckerman said. “I don’t need things about me. I’m thankful for them just to think about me.”
The 2009 MLS champion retired from professional soccer with almost no fanfare. He announced it after the 2020 season, which was much affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that, he didn’t get a farewell tour like former RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando did. And when he made the announcement, he alluded to a lack of playing time having at least some influence on his decision to hang up his boots.
But Beckerman is looking forward to visiting his old home stadium to close a chapter in a book he’s still writing.
“It would be great to get back into the stadium and see some old faces and just kind of have a chance, for both fans and myself, to get to say goodbye since we never did last year,” Beckerman said.
Once Wednesday night passes and RSL wins, loses or draws, Beckerman will be back to what he knows best: the grind. He’s still finding his way as a coach, a job he didn’t think he’d have so soon, if ever, after his playing career ended. He’s still learning his players, his coaching style, what drills he likes and doesn’t like, the college game as a whole.
But Beckerman likes learning. He comes from a family of educators. His mom taught third grade, his dad science.
Beckerman now has pupils of his own, and he’s teaching them the ways of being a professional even though they’re in college.
For instance, most college soccer coaches make substitutions at halftime. Beckerman hasn’t done that yet. The training sessions he has incorporated are some of his favorites from his playing days. He also puts the onus on his players to take care of their bodies and fitness, and hold themselves and each other accountable — just the like pros.
“He treats us like we’re professionals and he expects us to act like we’re professionals,” Wolverines sophomore forward Aaron Nixon said.
Many of Beckerman’s players grew up idolizing him. Freshman defender Mateo Palomino played at the RSL Academy before joining UVU and had gotten the opportunity to train with Beckerman.
But despite Beckerman’s larger-than-soccer stature, the ex-pro makes sure he doesn’t act above any player or coach. His players have noticed.
“Sometimes it seems like he’s just one of the guys out there with us,” Nixon said. “I think that’s something that we all really love is that we’re close with him and we feel like we can be ourselves around him, and I think that’s exactly what he wants as well.”
UVU announced Beckerman as its coach on April 12, after the team’s season had already ended. In the months between then and his first game, he read several books on Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. He read about the history of tactics. Eventually, he decided he wanted to implement the 4-4-2 diamond formation he enjoyed with the under-17 national team and with RSL when it was in its heyday.
Beckerman got his first career win as a head coach on Aug. 29, a 2-1 road result over Niagara University. It was then that he faced a harsh reality that only comes when a former player takes on a coaching role and becomes the reason why someone doesn’t get minutes.
“The biggest thing is wins aren’t as fun,” Beckerman said. “When I was a player, we would win, I could grab the guys who didn’t play and make them feel a part of it. But now, as a coach, instead of just thinking about the win, I’m thinking about the guys that didn’t play or didn’t play a ton.”
Palomino and Nixon said Beckerman does a good job of instilling confidence and belief in the entire team.
“He’s just a great guy,” Palomino said.
Beckerman may be spending the bulk of his time in Orem now rather than Herriman and Sandy, but he doesn’t feel all that far removed from RSL. He still watches games and is in regular contact with people in and around his former team. And he even has an opinion on who should be Salt Lake’s next coach.
“I believe Pablo [Mastroeni] is the best coach for RSL,” Beckerman said.
For Beckerman, who recently welcomed his second child, coaching at UVU is a whole new chapter of his life. He credits his wife, Kate, for supporting him and being the “rock of the household.”
Maybe one day there’ll be time for Beckerman to reminisce. But not yet. Not while there’s still work to be done.