Four years ago, DaMarcus Beasley looked like a player who would permanently fade out of the U.S. national team picture. But after reviving his career, he is a World Cup starter.
Beasley is in Brazil, and starting for the USA, not because of his ability to maintain the same trajectory throughout his career, like Rafa Marquez has done for Mexico. No, the 32-year-old Beasley has made it to World Cup No. 4 by reinventing himself and being open to doing whatever it takes to continue being a part of the national team setup.
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Four years ago, Beasley’s World Cup participation consisted of one 10-minute cameo in the U.S. team’s 1-0 victory against Algeria. He wouldn’t wear a U.S. uniform again for more than a year as he struggled for minutes with German side Hannover 96. Beasley was in danger of fading into obscurity completely, but instead made a change that jump-started his career.
Beasley went to Mexico.
More specifically, Beasley went to Liga MX, a league that didn’t exactly have many Americans in it who weren’t of Mexican descent. That didn’t matter to Beasley, who left Europe for a new challenge that led to steady playing time and eventually helped revive his club career.
"I'm not going to lie, it was a little bit different to go from Germany to Mexico, where I never thought I would end up playing, just because of the rivalry," Beasley said back in 2011 of his move to Mexico. "Playing there, living, the experience I have had so far the last two years, it's been great, on and off the field.
"The coach (at Puebla) gave me a chance to play, and I love it in Mexico,” Beasley said. “It's a great league, lot of skillful players. But at the same time I think it goes with my style, playing the ball and keeping it on the ground, and playing quick soccer and that's what I like."
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Resurrecting his national team career would require more work. Jurgen Klinsmann gave Beasley three call-ups in late 2011, as he was settling in at Puebla, but then 2012 came and all Beasley managed was one cap that year, which happened to come as a substitute in the historic win against Mexico in a friendly at Azteca.
For all intents and purposes, Beasley looked like a player Klinsmann didn’t have plans for, even as he was enjoying success with Puebla.
Then came a snowy night in Colorado, when a rash of injuries to the U.S. team’s pool of fullbacks led Klinsmann to call up Beasley and hand him his first start in almost three years, a span of 43 national team matches.
Beasley made the most of the opportunity, turning in a man of the match-worthy performance in the U.S. team's 1-0 World Cup qualifying win against Costa Rica, a match that won't soon be forgotten after being played in a snow storm.
"I think he knows I can play the position in a pinch," Beasley said that night of his surprise turn at left back. "Obviously, when the two other backs — Stevie (Cherundolo) and Fabian (Johnson) get back obviously I’m not going to play there. But whatever I can do to help the team is what I'll do.”
Though Beasley thought the left back experiment was temporary, his showing against Costa Rica, and four days later in a 0-0 tie against Mexico at Estadio Azteca, cemented a place in the starting lineup. He finished the year starting 17 of the team’s 21 matches, including most of the most important ones, like the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which the Americans won with Beasley as captain.
"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 (Beasley) 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 no longer has doubts about the position change, and has transformed his mentality from attack-minded winger to defense-first fullback.
“I’m the left back. My first job is to defend. My first job is not to score goals, even though I was a midfielder most of my career,” Beasley said back in May. “That is a part of the game, yes. It’s a plus for the team, but my job is to cover my center back and make sure we’re good defensively, make sure our line is straight and make sure they don’t get many chances. That’s my job and that’s what I try to do game in and game out.”
By committing to being a defender, Beasley has reached some significant milestones. He surpassed the 100-cap mark, and is now at 119 national team appearances, fifth-most in U.S. history. He also locked down a left back position for the U.S. that has been a problem area for years, and by doing so, Beasley has allowed Klinsmann to play Johnson at right back at the World Cup, where he has be brilliant.
"DaMarcus is without a doubt, when you look back, one of the best players in U.S. soccer history," midfielder Michael Bradley said Friday. "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.”
“Like any great athlete, (Beasley) went through some ups and downs,” Howard said Saturday. “And the reason that you hear about people who are great is because they get the best from themselves, they reinvent themselves and come back stronger.
“That was the thing with (Beasley) that always excited me, was once he accepted playing fullback I thought he’d be brilliant.”
Beasley's fourth World Cup hasn’t been as eye opening as his first, when he was a speedy winger taking on some of the world’s best as a fearless 20-year-old during the U.S. team’s surprising run to the World Cup quarterfinals. But it has been no less important. Though he struggled in the opening win against Ghana, Beasley was still not beaten for any goals or assists, and he followed up with commendable efforts against Portugal and Germany.
Up next is Belgium, which boasts some more dangerous wingers for Beasley to deal with. After all he has been through, from his World Cups to his days playing in the UEFA Champions League with PSV Eindhoven, Beasley relishes big games rather than fears them.
"That's always been inside me whenever I played. I like big games,” Beasley said Saturday. “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.”
If Beasley and the USA are going to beat Belgium on Tuesday, it will require another strong outing from a player who few could have imagined being here when the 2010 World Cup ended. But here he is, not only on the team, but a key leader and important player.
He may not bear much resemblance to the player who first appeared in the 2002 World Cup, but Beasley is arguably more important to the U.S. team now than he has ever been.