Kyle Beckerman has U.S. future as long as he has trust of Jurgen Klinsmann
Gaining the trust of a manager can be a tricky business for a player. It can take years to earn, yet evaporate quickly. Even if a player does all the right things in terms of skill and commitment, the hierarchy within a team may see a head coach prefer to have other performers in the lineup.
U.S. international midfielder Kyle Beckerman has experienced the entire trust spectrum during his career. As a youngster with the now-defunct Miami Fusion, Beckerman had to bide his time, and later broke through with the Colorado Rapids and especially with Real Salt Lake. He has now made 382 league appearances, an MLS record for an outfield player.
A similar dynamic took place at international level, where Beckerman never could leapfrog the players ahead of him under former manager Bob Bradley. But he has become a more frequent presence under Jurgen Klinsmann, and now has 51 caps to his name.
"Trust is something you have to earn for sure," Beckerman told ESPN FC via telephone. "I think as a young player, I was watching some of the older players like Chris Henderson, Mark Chung, some of these guys, and I felt like they were staying on the field, and they were always fit and always available for selection. Thinking of myself, if I get a chance to get in the starting lineup I'm going to never give it up.
"It's been something I've been working on for a long time, just that once you get in there, be somebody that the coach knows what he's going to get because that's what they're looking for. They want consistent players, and that's always been something that I've prided myself on, always be ready and have the coach know what he's going to get out of me."
As the U.S. prepares to play Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier in Guatemala City on Friday, it's evident that Klinsmann still has considerable faith in Beckerman. Jermaine Jones' suspension at club level for a case of referee assault that took place last October, carries over to international games, and is still a few weeks from being completed. Beckerman seems the most likely candidate to fill the gap created by Jones' absence.
Klinsmann has always appreciated the RSL midfielder's tackling, sharp passing and savvy positioning. Not that Bradley didn't, but every coach sees something different, and with Jones and Michael Bradley pushing forward out of midfield, Klinsmann has often turned to Beckerman to provide the defensive safety net in front of the back four.
Even when Beckerman isn't around, Klinsmann's appreciation shines through. Beckerman opted to spend preseason with RSL rather than participate in the January camp, and following the Americans' 3-2 friendly win over Iceland, Klinsmann was talking about the challenge of finding midfield balance when Bradley and Jones play together centrally. There have been moments when the two would pile forward at the same time, leaving a gap in the middle. Inserting Beckerman in the lineup provided the necessary counterweight.
"That's where always Kyle Beckerman saved us, because Kyle stayed, and these other two would just go up and down, up and down," said Klinsmann at the time.
There was a time of course when Beckerman was the one to go up and down. On the famed 1999 U.S. U-17 team, Beckerman was the attacking midfielder in a side that featured Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey, among others. But with playing time difficult to come by in Miami, Beckerman went on an overseas tour with a team comprised of young MLS players following the 2000 season. The coach of that team, the late Glenn "Mooch" Myernick, was the first to put Beckerman in a defensive midfield role.
"It just kind of felt natural, being in the center of the park," said Beckerman. "You're the player that's getting others involved rather than other players getting you involved. And I'd always been playing more in the center of the field growing up so I think it was a natural fit. Then it was all about adding the defensive part of the game and I was able to learn from some great players in Pablo [Mastroeni]."
Beckerman has been wedded to the position ever since, and will likely get another chance to show off his prowess in that role come Friday. It's a match into which Guatemala is pouring considerable resources given that Los Chapines have already lost at home to Trinidad and Tobago. The Guatemalan league calendar was tweaked to allow the national team to start training camp earlier.
Beckerman was a late substitute when the U.S. tied Guatemala 1-1 in a World Cup qualifier four years ago, so he has a clear idea of what to expect.
"It's extremely tough down there," he said. "The pitch isn't the greatest. The lighting is not the best. The fans are extremely excited for the game and are really involved in pushing Guatemala to fight harder and player harder. We all know that the players seem to get up for games against us and Mexico more than maybe they do against some of the other CONCACAF teams. We're going to get everything they got for sure. It's going to be extremely difficult, and we're going to have to bring our A-game and then it just comes down to finishing our chances and limiting theirs."
At age 33, Beckerman realizes his time with the U.S. is winding down, but his approach to his international commitments hasn't changed since his first days as a professional.
"I never thought I would definitely be on the national team, or I definitely wasn't," he said. "I've always just tried to be ready, and work every day so you can be ready. I don't really look too far ahead. Each call-up or potential call-up, I just look at it, 'Hey, maybe I'm going to go in.' So make sure you're ready, and try to be playing well and be fit. That's all really I can control."
If Beckerman controls the midfield on Friday, the U.S. will likely emerge victorious, and he'll keep Klinsmann's trust for a while longer.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.