Beasley experiences racism firsthand
EINDHOVEN, Netherlands -- DaMarcus Beasley knows what it's like to be an American soccer player in Europe -- especially a black American soccer player.
"When I got here, people would do the monkey noises and chants and stuff like that," he said. "I just kind of laugh it off."
For him, racism is not some far-off concept.
"I take most of the free kicks and corner kicks," Beasley said, "so I'm in the corner and I can hear it -- you know, stuff."
As the United States prepares to announce its World Cup roster, the 23-year-old midfielder from Fort Wayne, Ind., is a shoo-in, a spark of speed and energy that helped the Americans reach the quarterfinals four years ago. He is among the most successful U.S. players in Europe, starting the majority of games for PSV Eindhoven, and in 2005 he became the first American to play in a Champions League semifinal.
On a spring morning so cold that the team workout was moved to Philips Stadion because the practice fields were frozen, he drove back to the team's training facility a few miles away and talked about the difficulties American players face in Europe.
"Even my teammates give me a little stick for it. They don't like (President) Bush at all," he said. "I don't really get any anti-Americanism, but they kind of say, 'Yeah, we don't like Americans.'''
When he asked them why, they tell him: "Oh, because of Bush." "It's very ignorant," Beasley said, "but sometimes it's kind of funny."
When a player leaves the United States and heads abroad, the on-field challenges become only part of the puzzle in making a successful transition. Just walking across the streets on Eindhoven, a southeastern Dutch city of about 210,000 in the Noord-Brabant province, some of the cultural differences are visible.
Bicycles are as numerous as cars. Even with the temperature in the low 30s, some seemingly zonked out people sit outside on a pedestrian street lined with cafes, clubs and pubs.
"Everything is legal," Beasley said. "Prostitution is legal, drugs are legal -- well, just marijuana -- that part is legal. Now I'm kind of more accustomed to it because I've been around here so much. They smoke weed like they smoke cigarettes in the States. That's pretty crazy."
One thing that's not legal is driving drunk, which Beasley was charged with last week. If convicted, he will pay a $680 fine and could be banned from driving in the Netherlands. The charge arose from an incident Jan. 17, local media reported.
Living overseas can be a lonely existence. His girlfriend, who works for D.C. United, came over a couple of times, and his parents visited, too, but the first thing he says is that he misses them.
Cory Gibbs, who played for Feyenoord in Rotterdam and lately for Den Haag, sees Beasley two or three times a week and gives him some American contact.
"We go out to eat and stuff like that," Gibbs said.
Mostly, Beasley says he keeps to himself.
"I don't go around the city too much," he said. "Everybody knows that I sleep all day -- I sleep, I sleep, I sleep."
But the biggest challenge is on the field, where opponents and fans create tremendous pressure. While PSV was en route to it second straight Dutch Eredivisie title and 19th overall, the fans who mostly fill PSV's modern 36,500-seat stadium -- and the dozens who observe training as they smoke and drink coffee in a cafe next to the practice field -- have high expectations.
When Beasley walks onto his home field, he goes down a corridor filled with pictures of PSV greats past and present. There's Ruud Gullit and Romario, Ronald Koeman and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Beasley's picture is not too far from that of Ronaldo, the three-time FIFA Player of the Year.
"We can't lose. That's the pressure that our fans put on us and our club puts on us," Beasley said. "In MLS, yeah, you lose a game, you go to the next week and try to win. You lose that one, yeah, OK, you try the next one. People think you have a good season just if you make the playoffs. ... That would not be considered a good season at PSV or any top club in Europe."
That cauldron of intensity has forced Beasley to improve.
"It's like going from college basketball to the NBA," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "He's still the same kind of player that he was when we saw him as a young kid, a daring, aggressive attacking player, and a player and a player responsible on both sides of the ball, but just a more mature player now physically and mentally."
And that shows off the field, too.
"When he comes into camp now, he's more vocal, he's more of a leader, he's more demanding, he's more aggressive," said U.S. teammate Landon Donovan, who has known Beasley for nearly a decade. "He's turned into what Bruce has called a real soccer player."
Yes, despite the successes of Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and Claudio Reyna in the late 1990s, it hasn't gotten any easier for Americans when they first arrive in Europe.
"It's still the same," Gibbs said. "They haven't heard of a lot of our players, and then you go over there being American, you have to prove yourself -- unlike a Brazilian player, where they would expect the best out of him."
Beasley had four goals this season after scoring six in his first season with PSV. He also scored the second goal in the United States' 2-0 win over Mexico that September that clinched the Americans' fifth straight World Cup berth.
At just 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds or so, he gets knocked down a lot. But then he pops up.
"You just have to bend him back into shape," joked Arena, who gave him the nickname "Gumby."
With a good World Cup, Beasley could become an international star. Four years ago, he arrived at the tournament as a surprise.
"I was a kid and nobody wasn't expecting anything," he said. "Now, even Bruce, my teammates, they all expect more out of me. I'm at the age where I can be -- how do you say it? -- be a force in the midfield."