CARSON, Calif. — You wouldn't expect a coach hired to salvage a teetering World Cup qualifying campaign to call in a 34-year-old defender almost two years removed from his last meaningful national team appearance, but Bruce Arena's call to DaMarcus Beasley actually makes more sense than some might think.
Beasley is coming off a very good season with the Houston Dynamo, and though he hadn't been with the national team since Jurgen Klinsmann all but told him he was retired from international play after the 2015 Gold Cup, Beasley remains one of the best left back options in a shallow pool of choices. Arena, facing a pair of virtual must-win World Cup qualifiers in March, had no time to worry about Beasley's age, choosing instead to focus on the fact Beasley has big-game experience and is still capable of doing a job if called upon.
That's what led Arena to include Beasley in the January U.S. camp squad even though Beasley last played internationally in the 2015 Gold Cup, and many thought incorrectly that he had called time on an illustrious international career after coming out of retirement for that tournament. Seventh on the all-time appearances list for the U.S. with 123, and also the only American to be a part of four World Cup teams, Beasley is the second-oldest field player in camp (Jermaine Jones has him by a year). Despite being at least eight years older than the other two left backs in camp (Greg Garza and Taylor Kemp), Beasley is holding his own and having fun as he embarks on year 16 of his international career.
"I’m enjoying the moment," Beasley told Goal. "Bruce and I had a conversation this week about what he expects from me, and what he’s looking for this year. I accepted that. We had a good conversation. Bruce and I go way back so we were able to speak man to man, so it was good. I’m just living in the moment. I’m enjoying being back. It’s fun to see the young guys fighting. They’re hungry and it’s great to see. They want to make a difference and be the next U.S. stars."
Beasley isn't just in camp to be a a quasi-coach. Arena just might have to put Beasley on the field when World Cup qualifying resumes in March with matches against Honduras (at home) and at Panama. Losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in the opening matches of the hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying led to the firing of Klinsmann and the return of Arena, who knows earning a pair of wins in March won't be easy, particularly if the U.S. defense doesn't improve.
“(Beasley) can still play at this level,” Arena told Goal. “He brings experience, he’s a smart player, he still defends well and he gives us something in the attack. He’s a good team player. Those are qualities that any team would like to have.
“On the international level you can still put him on the field and he’s going to do fine.”
Beasley is no stranger to being called in to help rescue a bad start in World Cup qualifying. It was Klinsmann who surprisingly threw Beasley at left back in World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico when the U.S. needed points after losing to Honduras in its first match of the 2013 Hexagonal. Beasley was outstanding in both matches, and became Klinsmann's go-to left back for the rest of qualifying and at the 2014 World Cup. Beasley closed at the World Cup with an outstanding showing against Belgium, a performance overshadowed by Tim Howard's heroics in the 2-1 Round of 16 loss.
That figured to be it for Beasley, who retired from the national team shortly after, but Klinsmann talked him into returning for the 2015 Gold Cup. The tournament didn't end how Beasley would have wanted—he missed a penalty kick in the U.S. team's third-place match loss to Panama— and afterwards he made it clear he would never formally retire again.
That seemed a formality until the recent U.S. coaching change and Arena's call. Now, with Fabian Johnson sidelined by injury, Beasley just might be Arena's best option at left back for the March qualifiers if he can have a strong January camp.
The camp is also serving to keep Beasley in shape as he sorts out his club future. Currently a free agent, Beasley is the lone remaining unattached player in U.S. camp, though he made it clear where he would like to play in 2017.
"I don’t know where I’m going. I would like to stay in Houston," Beasley said. "Hopefully we can get that sorted out. We’re still in negotiations with Houston, so we’ll see."
For now, Beasley is imparting his wisdom on the younger players in U.S. camp, and sharpening his skills for what could be a return to the U.S. starting lineup.
"I always want to improve, even though I’m on the other side of my career,” Beasley told Goal. “I still feel like there’s things I can improve on, so from year to year, game to game, day to day, I’m trying to improve every aspect of my game.
"I want to have a strong 2017, and it starts with this camp.”