When Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman looks across the pitch on Sunday night in the Western Conference Championship (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) at his opponent, he’ll see a familiar face. The visage of LA Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, the long-time symbol of US soccer, is one from Beckerman’s past.
The two opposing midfielders were once teammates with the US Under-17 team, and spent a great deal of time together at the Bradenton Academy in Florida as part of Project 2010. Beckerman recounted his experience with Donovan on a conference call with media on Friday, and how each have evolved in their careers since that point.
“I have fond memories of those times with Landon and that team,” said Beckerman of the side that took fourth place at the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Championship. “It was a really unique team that we had — the way we got together off the field, and just our unity on the field. It was really just fun to play.”
Donovan, who arrived on the scene at Bradenton after Beckerman, really created a buzz right from the start, according to the RSL captain.
“Landon was a guy who got to the team about a year after it got formed at the Under-15 age,” Beckerman explained. “You see him coming on, and we didn’t really know he was. But this guy, he’s already talking about being the Golden Boot in every tournament that we play in. The guys that had already been there a while longer are thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’”
They soon found out. Donovan made good on his aspirations, winning the Golden Ball at the 1999 tournament then scored several stints in Europe, a successful national team career, and a legendary career in Major League Soccer.
“He had those goals back then and he just came out and we relied on him so much to score goals, to set up goals, and to track back on defense, and all the things that he did for us. We just wanted to see him go [further and further],” Beckerman said of Donovan’s impact with the US team. “And he’s the first guy [from the Bradenton group] to get a chance to go professional with Bayer Leverkusen. And we just felt how neat that was for him. We lived through him doing that. So we kind of followed him from when he started to get going.”
Beckerman hasn’t seen the limelight that Donovan has, but has carved out a spot as one of MLS’ premier defensive midfielders, and has been rewarded with repeated call-ups since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as the head man for the US national team.
“When I looked at my career from back then, I knew that I wanted to be a professional," Beckerman said. "I thought I’d have what it takes, and with our Under-17 results that we were able to get against these other countries … we knew we would be good enough. But I had no idea that I’d be here, with an MLS Cup already and battling for another.”
And while Beckerman and Donovan have evolved greatly from those common experiences in their youth, there will be no time for reminiscing. When it comes game time on Sunday, both seasoned professionals will be all business.