It’s time. Sixteen years after his professional debut? The truth is, it’s way past time. We need to start giving DaMarcus Beasley his due as one of the greatest American soccer players of all time.
The U.S. men’s national team is currently preparing for its most important game since it was knocked out of the World Cup last summer, a Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico in October. In a press conference Tuesday, Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t hesitate when asked about his team selection.
“We need Beas against Mexico.”
From World Cup starter to international retirement to an essential part of the team’s most important game of the year: all in a 14-month span; all at 33 years old. And yet, when we talk about the team’s historical icons, Beasley rarely comes up.
Landon Donovan’s recent retirement sparked a conversation about who would make the ‘USMNT Mount Rushmore.’ Put more simply, who are the four biggest icons and contributors to the men’s national team? Many of the usual names were raised: Donovan, Friedel, Reyna, Lalas and Wynalda seemed most common.
But consider Beasley’s career. He’s fifth all-time in appearances for the U.S. men’s national team and tied for ninth all-time in goals, despite spending much of that time as a defender. He’s the only American and one of only 28 people ever to play in four (men’s) World Cups. He’s been a captain for club and country. He’s won the Gold Cup four times, and won the tournament’s Golden Boot once. In his eight-year European club career, he won four league titles and three domestic cups. He’s also won two U.S. Open Cups and a Supporter’s Shield in his time in MLS.
It’s an impressive career by any stretch. So why doesn’t Beasley get as much credit as his fellow internationals? The easy answer is the casual soccer fan puts an exaggerated emphasis on goals, and that is in part true. Donovan scored 57 of those wearing the red, white and blue; Beasley only 17. But there’s another level, perhaps a subliminal level, and it’s not fair to Beasley’s legacy.
When the 2014 World Cup roster was announced, there were two primary negative reactions. First, Landon Donovan – the team’s greatest ever player, who bailed the team out time and time again – was nowhere to be seen. But there was a second complaint — perhaps more a disappointment than an outrage — about what many perceived as an uninspiring roster. Outside of a few fringe players earmarked for development, it was an old squad. It was a list of names we’d seen countless times before. The youth revolution touted during Klinsmann’s hiring was overstated at best and nonexistent at worst. So the hand-wringing began. Are we doing enough to set our team up for the future? Is the game growing? Are we getting better?
In that roster and the team selection since, Beasley’s inclusion in starting lineups has often elicited groans. “Is there really no better option than a 33-year-old midfielder-turned-left back?” Beasley has become a symbol of something more: Klinsmann’s perceived distrust in young players, and his broken promises about youth development.
Even if it wasn’t negativity, a slow but steady exasperation became associated with seeing him in the lineup. It’s understandable – it is disheartening to see a lack of planning and an uncertain future once Beasley finally does hang up his cleats. But this frustration with Klinsmann shouldn’t rub off on the perception of Beasley himself. It’s not his job to develop the next generation of American defenders. It’s his job to always be ready when the coach needs him. And he always is.
SEE MORE: U.S. versus Peru match preview.
We’ve become a little spoiled with our recent relative success on the international stage, having made it to the knockout stages in each of the past two World Cups. That’s not to say we shouldn’t expect that and more; we as a nation should be setting our sights higher and higher. Just don’t forget that 13 years ago, this wasn’t the norm.
In that breakthrough 2002 World Cup, it was two young midfielders, Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, who put one of the pre-tournament favorites, Portugal, on their heels. It seems fitting that it was Donovan’s play that captured the most headlines that day – that would be the norm for years to come. But while we were watching that young star shine in front of goal, we didn’t fully appreciate the soldier powering up and down that left wing.
Beasley may not be our most technically gifted player, and he may not have the flashiest stats. But has any other American played at the highest levels like he achieved? Did Tab Ramos, Brian McBride or even Landon Donovan make it to the Champions League semifinals, one goal away from the pinnacle of club soccer? And is it any coincidence that the tournament in which he mostly sat out, this past summer’s Gold Cup, was one of our least convincing performances in recent memory?
When you’re picking your U.S. Soccer “Mount Rushmores,” think of DaMarcus Beasley. He didn’t always have the prettiest or most glamorous job, but he did it anyway, and he’s done it well enough to help lead the team through one of its most successful periods ever. For 16 years, he’s been available and ready – no matter his age, no matter the position – to do whatever the team needed him to do.
There’s a special kind of honor there that statistics don’t capture. My hope is that history will.
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