COMMENT: Four years ago the Puebla star looked set to permanently fade out of the national team picture, but he has revived his career to be a tournament starter
This summer, DaMarcus Beasley has become the first American to participate in four World Cups. If it seems like not much is being made of this fact, it could be because we are talking about a completely different Beasley to the one who first embarked on one of the most underrated and impressive careers in USA national team history.
Unlike Mexico captain Rafael Marquez, whose longevity can be attributed primarily to his consistency, Beasley has got back into the USA starting XI by reinventing himself and being prepared to do whatever it takes to remain involved.
Four years ago, his World Cup participation consisted of one 10-minute cameo in the USA's decisive 1-0 victory against Algeria. He wouldn’t represent the Stars and Stripes again for more than a year as he struggled for playing time with German side Hannover 96. By the summer of 2011 Beasley was in danger of fading into obscurity completely, but instead made a change that jump-started his career. He went to Mexico.
Beasley joined Puebla in Liga MX, Mexico's top flight and a league that does not have many Americans in it who are not 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 career for both club and country.
"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 admitted in 2011. "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. It's a great league with lot of skillful players. I think it goes with my style, playing the ball and keeping it on the ground, quick soccer. That's what I like."
Resurrecting his national team career required a little more work. Jurgen Klinsmann gave Beasley three call-ups in late 2011, as he was settling in at Puebla, but 2012 yielded just one appearance for the USA, a brief cameo in an historic friendly win over bitter rivals Mexico at Estadio Azteca.
Then came a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica, when several injuries to the USA’s full-backs 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 a 1-0 win over Costa Rica, a match made famous for being played in a snow storm.
"I think [Klinsmann] knows I can play the position in a pinch," Beasley said after his surprise turn at left-back. "Obviously, when Stevie [Cherundolo] and Fabian [Johnson] get back 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 draw with Mexico at Estadio Azteca, cemented his place in the starting lineup. He finished the year starting 17 of the team’s 21 matches, including many of the most important ones and the 2013 Concacaf Gold Cup final, which the Americans won with Beasley as captain.
He no longer has doubts about the position change, and has transformed his mentality accordingly. This commitment has seen him surpass the 100-cap mark - he now stands at 119 appearances, the fifth-highest total in USA history.
"DaMarcus is without a doubt, when you look back, one of the best players in USA soccer history," midfielder Michael Bradley said on Friday. "What he has done for the 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.”
Beasley's fourth World Cup hasn’t been as eye-opening as his first, when he was a fearless 20-year-old winger taking on some of the world’s best during the USA's surprise run to the World Cup quarter-finals. But it has been no less important. Though he struggled in the opening win over Ghana, Beasley was still not beaten for any goals or assists, and went on to produce commendable displays against Portugal and Germany.
Tuesday's opponents Belgium boast several fearsome wingers of their own, but Beasley is not fazed. "I like big games," he said on Saturday. "I like being under the lights. I like playing in front of 80,000 people. It takes out the nerves for me. It's fun for me to play."
If the USA are going to beat Belgium on Tuesday, it will require another strong personal display from Beasley. He may not bear much resemblance to the player who first appeared in the 2002 World Cup, but he is arguably more important to the national team than he has ever been.