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Kyle on World Cup Debut: 'I Really Got Goosebumps'

Monday's 2-1 victory over Ghana was a grind-it-out success for the U.S. national team—the kind of game that Kyle Beckerman was born to play. ASN's John Godfrey spoke to the midfielder about the match.

BY John Godfrey Posted
June 18, 2014
8:14 AM
NATAL, Brazil—Kyle Beckerman knows there aren't a whole lot of soccer players who make their World Cup debuts at the age of 32.

It's a tournament for younger men, for the most part, as the rugged play and endless running and constant travel and quick turns favor bodies that can bounce back from abuse efficiently. Late-blooming goalkeepers? Sure. But defensive midfielders tend to peak in their mid-to-late twenties and get their initial shot in soccer's biggest stage then.

Beckerman didn't make the U.S. World Cup squad as a 28-year-old (he was a fringe player for Bob Bradley in 2010) or as a 24-year-old (he hadn't yet earned his first cap in 2006), so when he marched out onto the field at Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, a starting midfielder for the United States of America, Beckerman inhaled the entire experience.

"I got the chills when we were walking out," he said after the match, a crucial 2-1 victory over Ghana. "The national anthem—it was just an amazing feeling. I've been working for this my whole life, and to finally get it felt great."

Beckerman, a 335-game Major League Soccer veteran who has made seven MLS All-Star appearances over his 14-year career, has been around the block a few times. But he readily admits he got caught up in the majesty of the World Cup.

"It did feel a little bit different being in a World Cup," the Maryland native said. "The buzz in the stadium, and the fans—they're crazy, coming down here and cheering us on. It was awesome when we were driving up in the bus and seeing all of the American jerseys and flags. Then in the stands, singing....

"I really got goosebumps."

The out-of-body experience didn't last long, of course, not when Ghana's Sulley Muntari is trying to dispossess you and Andre Ayew is looking to sneak around you and Christian Atsu is willing to do anything he can to make you look bad. But there's no getting past the fact that nerves are going to be present at the start of the contest.

"You can take that as a negative or a positive," Beckerman said, "and I just tried to take it as positive as possible. It was just a lot of fun."

As he did against Nigeria in the final warm-up before the World Cup, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann deployed three defensive-minded midfielders in his starting XI—Beckerman, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Jones. When this trio plays together, it's a sign that the Americans are preparing to defend in numbers, absorb pressure, and look for counterattacking opportunities.

Jones, another 32-year-old defensive midfielder who made his World Cup debut against Ghana, had nothing but praise for Beckerman.

"He loves to make shit work for the team," Jones said. "He is always one of the guys who push the team, push the players. He never gives up and sometimes you need that kind of player on the team."

Was it an old-school, outwork-your-opponent type of game for the Yanks?

"Absolutely, and it's going to have to continue," Beckerman said. "The teams we're playing—they're good and talented. And that has to be standard. We can get sharper. We can better in places. But the grit and determination has got to be there every time.

"And I suspect that it will be."

Despite all that effort and the positive result, Ghana thoroughly dominated the match for 60-plus minutes—maintaining possession and dictating play for long stretches.

As U.S. defender Matt Besler put it, "I think we really did defend well. We just did too much of it."

Beckerman agrees with this sentiment, especially in regard to the second half.

"We switched to a 4-4-2 flat, just straight up," he said, discussing a halftime tactical shift. "And when you're playing that, you're pretty much playing for the counterattack."

By ceding possession to Ghana and shunting its players to the wings, the Americans knew where the attacks were going to be coming from. They just couldn't stop Ayew's 82nd-minute strike, and they failed to retain possession and apply meaningful pressure on the Black Stars.

"For the most part everybody in the locker room is happy for the win but we know we can improve, we can do better," Beckerman said. "When you can get three points and still know you can improve it's a great sign for any team.

"If we can get better and score some goals and maybe keep the ball a little bit more so we won't defend as much."

That will be the focus between now and Sunday, when the Americans face Portugal (6 p.m. ET, ESPN) the No. 4 team in the world. The Seleção das Quinas were humiliated against Germany on Monday, losing 4-0 and suffering injuries and indignation along the way. Team talisman Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to flip the script against the United States in Manaus, Brazil.

When asked about the 2013 Ballon d'Or winner and his teammates, Beckerman's eyes grew wide. Then he theatrically emptied his lungs. And then he allowed himself a quick smile.

"I don't know," he said. "It's going to take all 11 of us. It'll be tough work because they're going to want to respond after their loss. It's really important for them, so it will take 11 guys to get the job done.

"But all of our effort, and fighting for each other, is going to continue."

What does Kyle Beckerman mean to the U.S. national team? We want to hear your thoughts below. John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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