Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO — Look at DaMarcus Beasley these days and you will not see the baby-faced youngster with the fresh haircut who stepped on the field 12 years ago and dazzled in his first World Cup.
What you will see aside from his scruffy beard and completely shaven head is a wily veteran, one who has made history by playing in his fourth World Cup and is helping to guide a young U.S. Men’s National Team in Brazil.
Beasley became the first American to play in four World Cups when he lined up for the U.S. in its opener against Ghana earlier this month, a notable accomplishment for one of the team’s most noble servants. But the 32-year-old Beasley being in the situation to achieve such a milestone was a result of his perseverance and hard work, overcoming some rough times at both the club and international levels before becoming a staple of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup.
“DaMarcus is without a doubt, when you look back, one of the best players in U.S. Soccer history,” said midfielder Michael Bradley. “What he has done for club teams he has been on, what he has done for the national team, the consistency, the longevity, and he continues to show how important he is for us. Honestly, not enough good things to say about DaMarcus.”
The wheels that Beasley had back in the day have slowed a bit – even though his game still offers some quickness as evidenced by one play in the second half of the recent loss to Germany – and he no longer is the electric left midfielder that he once was. He instead plays left back now, a position that he initially resisted wanting to play but now fully embraces.
It was in that spot that Beasley made history on June 16 in the 2-1 win over Ghana. He drew criticism from some fans and media for his performance that day, but some of it appeared to be misguided. Beasley allowed a number of crosses to come in and slipped a few times, but he kept his attackers in front of him and was never beaten from the run of play by his mark.
It wasn’t a spectacular performance by any means, but one that demonstrated that Beasley is capable of being a serviceable left back at a high level.
“I’m a big fan of wingers becoming fullbacks. I just think it’s a natural progression,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard. “I think at the beginning he wasn’t overjoyed by it but once he grasped it, he’s been brilliant. I really think he’s fantastic. We tease him about being the old guy – even though he’s not as old as me and Nick (Rimando) – but he’s just been fantastic.”
Beasley might playfully be looked at as the elder statesman of the group, but his maturity and high soccer IQ have helped him adjust to playing left back while also allowing for him to be a leader that younger and lesser-experienced players like Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler can count on for advice.
Beasley’s willingness to be there for teammates is a trait that is admired in the U.S. locker room, but so too are his calmness and composure. You never see Beasley get rattled much – not even when facing pressure-filled situations – and that’s a characteristic that he says has always been part of his DNA.
“You can’t really teach that,” said Beasley. “That’s always been inside me whenever I played. I like big games. For me, I like being under the lights. I like playing in front of 80,000 people. It takes out the nerves for me.
“For me, playing in World Cups or Champions League or semifinals, that’s where you want to show you belong in this position … you deserve to be there. For me, being in these type of games and these environments, I enjoy it. It’s fun for me to play. Once you get the first touch on the ball, it’s like you’re playing any other game. You forget about the World Cup, you forget about the fans, you just go out there and play and make sure you’re focused in your position and what you need to do to win the game.”
The versatile veteran with 119 caps to his name had refrained from speaking to media at the World Cup prior to Saturday. He said he did that so as to focus on the games and avoid answering questions about an individual accomplishment, which he is not a fan of and does not plan on talking about until after he calls it a career.
Even so, he is proud to be representing the U.S. in the prestigious tournament for a fourth consecutive time.
“For me, being on the field is great, being around these guys another World Cup cycle has been amazing,” said Beasley. “(Left back is a) different position for me, but I still play with the same heart and desire to win every game, to win every tackle, to sometimes maybe score a goal. I’m just happy to be here and be able to help get us to the next round.”
Having had to reinvent his game and plow through some obstacles to make it this far, Beasley is enjoying his time in Brazil and hopes to extend the Americans’ stay there when they take on Belgium in a Round of 16 match on Tuesday.
Beasley is likely to be starting in that one barring any unforeseen circumstances, giving him yet another World Cup appearance and adding to his storied U.S. career.
“Beas is just an ultimate soccer player,” said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “He can play in numerous positions. … He defends well, he attacks for us. Beas is just an ultimate professional, so it’s great to see he gets that fourth World Cup and he deserves it.”