BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- When it comes to players who are vital to a successful U.S. attack, the names of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are usually the first to come up, and with good reason. They are the performers who have the ability and vision to provide the unexpected. But following his performance in Wednesday's 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, it's clear that DaMarcus Beasley also belongs in that category.
That's not to say that the former Chicago Fire midfielder provides the same attributes as either Dempsey or Donovan. Beasley's game has always been as much about defending as attacking, and on Wednesday it was his defense that got him going, as a lightning quick tackle in the eighth minute on T&T defender Cyd Gray showed that there was plenty of jump in Beasley's legs.
"DaMarcus is a very important player for us," U.S. manager Bob Bradley said. "He's always been a two-way player, and his energy really adds to the rest of the group."
But the U.S. midfielder quickly applied that vigor to his attacking game, earning a free kick in the ninth minute that led to Michael Bradley's goal, and then setting up Clint Dempsey for the Americans' second tally nine minutes later.
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And what pleased his manager most was the unpredictable element surrounding the buildup. Rather than be chained to the touchline, Beasley had drifted into a central position, allowing him the time and space to thread a return feed to Dempsey after the Fulham attacker's initial pass.
"[Beasley] is a guy who has the ability to find good spots on the field," Bradley said. "He's capable of coming inside, as well as drifting wide and going by people. He also works hard when the ball turns over. That's the whole package."
Of course, 2008 hasn't been the easiest of years for Beasley in that he has been injured for a good portion of it. The first four months were spent rehabbing a knee injury sustained in November 2007. And just when it looked like he was back to full fitness, a hamstring strain he suffered in July while training with club side Rangers put him on the shelf again.
The result has been some decidedly uneven international performances, with the nadir being reached in Saturday's 1-0 win at Cuba. On that occasion, Beasley struggled to make any kind of impact on the attacking end, and when that happens, it's that much easier for opponents to clamp down on Dempsey and Donovan, not to mention the fact that it limits opportunities for left back Heath Pearce to get forward.
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Heading into Wednesday's game, it was unclear whether much would change against the Soca Warriors. But Beasley looked a different player against T&T, and he stated that he's almost 100 percent healthy.
"It's been tough times," Beasley said. "Just stop-and-start, stop-and-start, playing for the last six months. It's my second game ... and I'm starting to feel good, starting to get under my feet."
The trick of course is for Beasley to replicate this performance when the competition gets tougher and the spaces tighter. There have certainly been times in the past, namely the 2006 World Cup, when he fell well short of that goal. But if Beasley can re-establish his starting spot with Rangers, the odds that he'll find more consistency will go up, as will the chances of the U.S. enjoying more attacking outbursts like it had against Trinidad & Tobago.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Center Line soccer and can be reached at email@example.com.