31114_isi_beckermankyle_mlsdb03082014161 David Bernal/isiphotos.com
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Kyle Beckerman Remains Upbeat About Club, Country

Despite a disappointing end to the 2013 MLS season, Real Salt Lake captain is focused and optimistic about 2014—both for his club and for the World Cup-bound United States national team.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 11, 2014
3:53 PM
THE 2013 MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER season ended in bitter disappointment for Real Salt Lake and its captain, Kyle Beckerman.

On December 7, RSL played Sporting Kansas City to a 1-1 draw in the MLS Cup Finals, only to lose in the 10th round of a penalty kick shootout. Four days later, longtime head coach Jason Kreis announced he was leaving the team and taking the reins of New York City FC.

The double-dose of bad news has prompted a series of questions that will no doubt follow Real Salt Lake as the 2014 campaign gets underway. Most significantly: Can the club survive Kreis’ departure and does new head coach Jeff Cassar have what it takes to lead this team?

American Soccer Now’s Brian Sciaretta spoke with Beckerman about a variety of topics, including the 2014 World Cup, MLS’s recent successes, and yes, the club’s prospects for the coming season.

“Jeff has been really trying to keep things pretty steady,” Beckerman told ASN. “We do a lot of things that we’ve done in the past and I really feel Jeff has been a really important part of the team when Jason was here. He had a big footprint in what we do.”

Judging from Saturday’s 1-0 road win against archrival Los Angeles Galaxy, RSL has maintained its gritty identity despite Kreis’ departure. But Beckerman said that Cassar provides more than just continuity.

“Jeff does have his own ideas,” Beckerman said. “We want to continue to be fighting for every trophy that’s out there. Jeff feels that we can always get better.”

Beckerman, 31, joined the league in 2000, signing with the now-defunct Miami Fusion as a 17-year-old. At the time he was a promising attacking midfielder, but he soon moved back into a defensive midfield role where he has flourished. It wasn’t an easy transition, but Beckerman learned to enjoy doing the dirty work and eventually became one of the most valuable players in the league.

The stats back this up: Beckerman holds the all-time record for most fouls in league history, and he has amassed 72 yellow cards over a 13-year span. It is no coincidence that everywhere Beckerman has played, his team has won.

“It’s something, I’ve grown into and taken great pride in—taking part in the gritty dirty work by helping the defense get a shutout,” Beckerman explained. “The position comes down to wins and losses. Did you help your team win a game?”

The steely veteran also takes pride in his longevity. Currently ranked No. 17 in the ASN 100, Beckerman has been with the league through some of its roughest times, which makes the healthy glow of the current environment that much more special.

“We feel that there is so much momentum going on right now,” Beckerman said of the league’s evolution. “It’s taken us a while to get there. A couple of us have been in this league for a long time and to see where it is today, it’s really exciting to be here and see where it’s going to be here.”

Beckerman is somewhat unique among league stars in that he has never taken his game overseas and seems destined to finish his career an MLS lifer. Instead of seeing the drawbacks in this, Beckerman insists he is “super proud” to be part of the league throughout his career, and says he feels like a pioneer.

“I think it’s great for the guys who go overseas but I think there’s also something to be said to be a big part of building this league,” Beckerman said. “You’re going to continue to see more and more players be part of MLS their whole careers. It can be a really great thing.”

Beckerman acknowledges that a place on Jurgen Klinsmann’s 2014 World Cup team would also be a great thing. The five-foot-ten Maryland native has 34 caps, and appears to have the inside track for a roster spot. Beyond being a Klinsmann favorite, Beckerman stood out in last summer’s Gold Cup, which the U.S. dominated from start to finish.

“He gives you everything,” U.S. Klinsmann said of Beckerman after the Gold Cup. “He’s a pure giver as I’ve often said. I wish I could have had Kyle 10 or 12 years ago because as a player I could have helped him reach higher levels—even going to Europe and playing in Europe.”

“We are happy with where he is,” Klinsmann continued. “He’s in a very good environment in Salt Lake, he’s the leader there, and he’s the captain there. He deserved to be man of the match in the final, the final match of Gold Cup 2013, and he deserves a special compliment.”

The thought of the World Cup is a difficult topic for Beckerman these days because he knows he is in the mix but is trying to put it out of his mind. His World Cup dreams date back to the 1990 tournament, when a then-eight-year-old Beckerman recorded all of the games he could on his family’s VCR.

He remembers being particularly inspired by the U.S.’s hard-fought 1-0 defeat to the host Italians.: “From then on,” Beckerman recalled, “that’s want I wanted to do and I knew what I wanted to be.”

Now that the goal is almost a reality, however, Beckerman remains cautious.

“I think the best way to go about it is to try to put it out of your mind the best you can,” Beckerman said of his World Cup aspirations. “I am just trying to stay in form and help my team get off to a good start. If I sit there and just think about it, I get too anxious. I don’t think that’s healthy.”

Beckerman’s next chance with the U.S. national team will come on April 2nd when the United States hosts Mexico in Glendale, Ariz.—the club’s final game before the opening of World Cup camp in May.

In World Cup group play, the United States will square off against Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. Most pundits consider the Yanks long shots to advance, but Beckerman says that the mood among the team team is upbeat and optimistic.

“The feeling around the team is that if we can play our best and everybody is clicking, any game is winnable,” Beckerman said. “We can get out of the group but it’s going to take a huge effort. It’s going to be difficult but that’s why you play the games—to challenge yourself.”

“We’re all looking forward to it.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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