US midfielder Beckerman makes most of once unlikely World Cup dream

COMMENT: The United States international is relishing the chance to play at this summer's tournament, four years after thinking the opportunity had passed him by
Watch Kyle Beckerman play and you realise he is not one to give up easily. Blessed with a gritty determination to succeed, the Real Salt Lake and United States midfielder enjoys a battle.

Just making the US team is an achievement in itself. At 32 years of age, he thought his chance had gone but has emerged as one of the key men in Jurgen Klinsmann's well-drilled team.

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Beckerman watched the 2010 World Cup as a fan and he had no reason to believe this tournament would be any different. Even though he has been one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS for years, Beckerman was ignored by then coach Bob Bradley for South Africa in 2010 and was not expecting a chance in 2014 given his age.

“I didn’t even think about the World Cup [before Klinsmann]. It wasn’t going to happen,” Beckerman told Goal. “You try and put a positive spin on it and you try and do as best you can for Salt Lake. You always think as a soccer player, you never know. You’ve got to be ready for whatever happens, and I didn’t really see a new coach coming in and calling me in, but I was ready for it. I’m glad I had that mindset.”

When US Soccer fired Bradley after the 2011 Gold Cup, Beckerman couldn’t have known what the coaching change would mean for his international career, but he figured it out pretty quickly when Klinsmann recalled him for his first match in charge. Beckerman was included in the starting line-up against Mexico, starting alongside Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley.

“I really had no idea about him and had never met him, the only thing I knew of him was that I watched him play as a great player for Germany,” Beckerman said of Klinsmann. “He threw me in the deep end. I just felt that, hey, this is an opportunity that I can’t let go. I have to grab it and run with this.

“It was just kind of something I thought was totally dead and, all of a sudden, the door that I thought was locked opened up.”

Despite that early opening against Mexico, Beckerman didn't always hold down a starting berth.

The competition for playing time in central midfield was fierce, with Maurice Edu and Danny Williams competing for playing time either next to or behind Jones. Beckerman managed just two starts in 2012, but he really came on in 2013, making the most of a starting role on the team which won the Gold Cup.

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Even after that, Beckerman still had to work hard to convince Klinsmann he was worthy of a larger role in the World Cup squad. He did that in games against Mexico and Nigeria, playing the defensive midfield role perfectly behind Jones and Bradley.

“He’s a very special player in the way he brings himself into the whole team concept,” Klinsmann said of Beckerman. “He’s there for his team-mates. He’s cleaning up for his back line. He’s there when you need him. Those are very rare players."

"For Brazilians to have a comparison, it’s definitely Dunga from the '94 team, where he just cleaned up things in front of the back line and just played simple passes,” Beckerman added. “He passed them onto the creative players. Dunga was never the creative one, but he organised the whole orchestra.”

Beckerman has rewarded Klinsmann’s faith in him by playing well in his two World Cup starts, particularly in the team’s 2-1 win against Ghana. He and Jones were instrumental in keeping the Americans in the match as Ghana threatened to overwhelm the US.

That victory was not only special to Beckerman for the three points he helped his team secure, but also for the fact he realised a life-long dream of playing in a World Cup.

“It was really emotional,” Beckerman said. “The way we were standing [for the national anthem], we were looking right at our families. You see them tearing up, and you hear the crowd singing so loud. It’s an intense moment, really emotional, and it just pumps you up and I can say I’ve never had a national anthem like that.”

It does not get any easier for Beckerman and the US as Germany await in Recife on Thursday. One thing is certain, though: he won't shirk the challenge.