Despite all of the fame, all of the success and all of the followers, Noah Beck can’t help but wonder sometimes.
When he talks to old friends, turns on the TV, kicks the ball around, Beck sometimes dreams about what could have been.
What if this TikTok thing hadn't worked out? What if he had never found himself in Hollywood, navigating the pressures of celebrity life on the fly?
What if he was still the college kid that had his heart set on someday becoming a soccer star? What if he kept going instead of changing paths?
From his time as a kid training with the high-school team his dad coached all the way to his all-too-brief college career, Beck had one goal in mind: turn pro.
However, Beck’s dream, and life, changed in ways he could never have imagined.
"It sucks,” Beck tells GOAL. “Like even just like talking about it. I feel like there's always that feeling of what if? Like what if I didn't post that first TikTok? Or what if I just dropped everything and played again?
"It's always in the back of my head."
For those that aren't familiar, Beck is one of TikTok's biggest success stories, with millions of fans tuning in to watch every video he posts.
The 20-year-old has amassed over 45 million followers across his social media accounts and over 2.2 billion likes on TikTok, making him one of the most in-demand young celebrities of the moment.
His star status truly came out of nowhere. With the rise of TikTok in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Beck was one of the lucky few that just happened to hit it big.
What began as a quarantine hobby suddenly became something very, very real and now, just about two years in, Beck finds himself dabbling in TV, modelling and just about anything else he can try out.
missing u a lot right about now⚽️❤️🩹♬ Que Calor - Supermerka2
But before he was one of social media's biggest stars, he was a youth soccer player that had a very real chance of making it.
Born in Arizona, Beck was raised in the game. His father was a high school coach and, even as a young player, Beck was tossed straight into the fire.
He routinely trained with his dad's team, despite being up to a decade younger than those he was competing against.
If you talk to him about those days, you can hear the excitement in his voice. He'll tell you all about how he was raised as a Manchester United fan who idolized Paul Scholes.
He'll tell you about how he tried to mimic Cristiano Ronaldo's work ethic, Steven Gerrard's passing, Frank Lampard's vision.
He'll tell you about how he grew up wanting to be David Beckham, a footballer-turned-model-turned-celebrity that was so good at everything he did that he could do anything he wanted.
On the field, Beck describes himself as a versatile player, one who could play as an 8, a 6 or across the backline.
He wasn't the fastest player, he admits, and he still had a lot of growing to do as a player. But, when he played, he was competitive as hell.
"I loved the responsibility that I had, and I loved being the leader," Beck says. "I was never the perfect captain. There were times we were losing and kids on my team would start quitting and it was just frustrating.
"There's only so much I can do by leading by example and that's what I tried to do when I played. But it comes to a point with you have to kind of get on kids, kids that can be like your best friends off the field.
"It's like, 'Wake up!' You can't always be the good guy when you're the captain. You kind of have that responsibility.
"So, yeah, I was a very, very, very passionate player. Very, very competitive."
Because of that, he captained the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program from 2014 to 2017 before earning a spot in Real Salt Lake's academy for his final two years of high school, allowing him to play against and alongside several future MLS players.
Eventually, he was given a scholarship to play for the University of Portland Pilots, a program that has produced U.S. men's national team greats like Kasey Keller, Steve Cherundolo and Conor Casey.
Despite the successes of those three in particular, and there were plenty, Beck is no doubt the program's most famous export these days and, according to those that played with him, he was a pretty damn good player too.
"He was probably the hardest worker that I've played with," Bryce Duke, Beck's former academy teammate and current midfielder for, coincidentally, Beckham's Inter Miami, tells GOAL.
"Like just determined, just with that true passion for the game.
"To be honest, when we were in the RSL academy, I always thought it was gonna be me and him that would like make it out and turn pro.
"But then the whole social media thing came up and he took full advantage of that and we kind of just went two different routes.
"On and off the field, great person. Kind of has that captain mentality."
Duke and Beck remain close friends to this day, and Duke was one of the few that got to truly witness the entirety of Beck's meteoric rise.
After playing 19 games as a freshman, Beck was fully prepared to take a step forward in his sophomore season.
He had been spending the offseason working on his explosiveness, wanting to become a more dynamic player.
And then the pandemic hit, changing everyone's lives forever. Like many, Beck found a way to kill time on TikTok, originally posting videos simply for his friends' entertainment.
"He started doing the videos and like, at first of course, videos back then were kind of cringey so we kind of made fun of him," Duke says with a laugh.
"We gave him a hard time for it, but that's what any best friend would do."
But, as those videos took off and as his celebrity began to grow, Beck was faced with a choice continue pursuing his dreams in soccer or take on Hollywood.
Due to NCAA rules, Beck couldn't do both as cashing in on his newfound fame would end his college career.
Duke was one of the people Beck turned to, as Duke had, months earlier, signed his first professional contract with Los Angeles FC.
Soccer careers are far from guaranteed, he told Beck, and the chance to solidify a lifetime in Hollywood was too good to pass up.
“I was like, ‘Look at Morgan Freeman’, like he's 80-something years old and he's still doing movies,” Duke said.
“It's just a matter of what you think you can get the most out of and he took a couple of days to think and then, the next month, he was out in LA and took it more seriously.
“That's when he really started to blow up and then he started realizing that he could actually do it, and he just kind of took it and ran with it.”
this announcement means the world to me and holds a v special place in my heart… social playmaker for the @mls 🤝📈 thank you guys for believing me<3♬ original sound - noah beck
And so Beck's soccer career ended. He never returned for that sophomore season.
However, in between TikTok and YouTube and modelling and brand deals, Beck does find a way to stay connected to the game he still loves.
He frequently attends MLS matches and has travelled overseas to take in some of Europe's biggest games. He still texts Duke and other friends to kick the ball around from time to time.
And, last summer, he took part in the MLS All-Star Game in LA, helping out as a guest coach for the Skills Challenge.
For Beck, that wasn't just a celebrity appearance, but rather a chance to live out his dream.
He was on the field with a former Manchester United player in Nani as well as U.S. men's national team stars Ricardo Pepi and Matt Turner.
That appearance got the ball rolling, leading to this week's announcement that Beck has officially partnered with the league.
The social media star has joined up with MLS in the new position of 'Social Playmaker', where he will host a weekly TikTok show and participate in events throughout the MLS season.
But the part Beck is most excited about? The opportunity to work with MLS NEXT, the league's development league tasked with guiding the next generation of professional stars.
“I still try to play as much as I can,” he says. “I still try to get out and be involved in any way and I think that part of this partnership with MLS, I had no choice but to get involved. I love it. Before I was doing things and I was like, ‘Damn I want to be more involved in this’.
“This partnership, I think, goes to show that I'm really serious about it and I want to continue bringing awareness to MLS and soccer in the US.
"I think soccer is one of those things where it’s not fully developed in the U.S. like how they see football, basketball, and I want to help bring awareness to it.
“I'm working with MLS NEXT and working with the young kids. I’m going to be going to games, going to events and just trying to inspire others.”
Beck believes he’s in a unique position to do just that. He undoubtedly has the following to reach an entirely new type of soccer fan, one that skews significantly younger.
He also has the background in soccer to make it authentic and the passion for the game to make something like this a priority.
Beck credits soccer for getting him to where he is today. It may not have worked out how he expected, but those lessons on that high school field where his dad taught him to play still ring true in the sometimes toxic world of social media.
“Nothing can prepare you for this industry,” he begins, “even if this is like your whole dream and, in my case, it wasn't at all.
"I wanted to be a professional soccer player, but I think having that athlete background, I was able to handle it a lot differently than some of the kids in the industry with me.
“I don't really let things that people say get to me. If I don't know you personally, I'm not gonna take anything you say about me personally.
“Just keep doing your thing, and that's what I kind of like to live by. I just try to continue to do cool things in my career and I try to inspire or entertain, put a smile on people's faces.”
In some ways, Beck still feels like one of those academy players, one that holds onto the hope of making it to the professional game. He knows that hope isn’t real, though. That part of his life, sadly, is over.
But he still gets to live his dream in other ways thanks to his celebrity. He still gets to count himself among soccer’s elite, at least in his own way.
In September, Beck’s career took him to Paris and, while in the city, he took in PSG’s clash with Manchester City.
Like most other celebrities, Beck was given the Hollywood treatment. This is PSG, a club known for glitz, glamor and a desire to embrace superstars of all types.
Beck was given the run of the place and given the opportunity to meet several of his heroes. Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Keylor Navas, Marco Verratti and Georgino Wijnaldum all took photos with the TikTok star.
But meeting Lionel Messi was different. At that moment, Beck wasn’t a celebrity. He wasn’t the social media star with millions of followers and dreams of taking his career further and further.
He was that little kid training with his dad, wondering just how far soccer could take him.
“When I walked into that room, and when I first made eye contact with Messi, my whole life flashed before my eyes,” he says.
“Messi was one of those guys where, no matter what position you play, you look up to Messi. You appreciate his God-given talent.
“I used to watch Messi highlight videos before games. I used to watch him all the time, trying to study his moves, body language, whatever he would do.
"When he walked in that room and I saw him, everything just flashed. I think I blacked out because I barely even remember the interaction, but it was real.
“It's definitely something that I don’t ever want to get used to. I love meeting people, but I definitely won’t take it at all for granted.”
Beck can stop wondering about those what-ifs for now. He doesn’t need to wonder if he ever would have made it, if he was good enough to be a star.
Because Beck is living out his soccer dream. It isn’t what he always intended, but sometimes life gets in the way for the better.
So, those what-ifs are for another time. Beck still has too many other things left to do.