World Cup: Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman turning into a national sensation with USA in Brazil
Real Salt Lake fans have had seven years to get acquainted with Kyle Beckerman; MLS fans have been watching him for 14 years.
But, at the age of 32 and playing in his first World Cup, Beckerman is becoming a bit of a national sensation. He's blowing up on social media; his name is mentioned on national news shows; and he's gathering a bit of a following.
It's something that Beckerman is only vaguely aware of as he and the rest of the USMNT prepare to face Belgium in the knockout round on Tuesday (4 pm ET, ESPN and Univision).
“We hear from some of the Americans that we see in the hotels and stuff,” Beckerman told reporters by phone from Brazil. “They kind of let us know that it's kind of crazy back in the States. That everybody's been really going gung-ho for the World Cup games.
“It sounds like we've got the soccer fever or something, which is great.”
While much of the attention has been focused on players like Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard, Beckerman played every minute of the USMNT's three group-stage games. And, while casual fans might be noticing him because of his distinctive hair, soccer fans are impressed by the talent he's showing on the field.
“It's good to see him get recognition because he's been deserving of that for a long time now,” said his RSL teammate Nick Rimando, a back-up keeper on the USMNT.
Suddenly, Beckerman — who has played his entire professional career in MLS is on a world stage — is representing.
He was one of seven MLS players who started against Germany last week, and the league is represented on national teams that range from Costa Rica to Honduras, Australia to Iran. One of the stars of Brazil's shoot-out win over Chile on Saturday was Toronto FC goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
“That helps our league,” Beckerman said. “Absolutely. It's just going to continue to get bigger and bigger, and respect for our league is going to keep going up. The league is getting better each year and the players we're producing get better each year... The stock of our league will just keep rising.”
Rimando expressed pleaure at seeing “how far the league has come.... Anybody that plays in MLS that's on this team takes complete pride in that. We have a competitive league with good players in it and it's continuing to get better each year.”
Beckerman and Rimando both believe that playing an MLS schedule helped prepare players for the World Cup in Brazil — both because players are well acquainted with long plane flights and lots of travel and because of the conditions in some MLS cities.
“When we get to these places with the heat and humidty, it didn't really phase us too much,” Beckerman said, equating the jungle city of Manaus to certain parts of Texas.
“If you feel like, 'Aw, it's not as bad as Houston,' it kind of gives you a little mental boost that, 'OK, we've done this before and we've done well,” he said. "So it's not a big deal. I think a lot of these other teams, it's catching them off guard and they aren't able to handle it.”
The Americans are clearly focused on their own games — beating Belgium on Tuesday is Goal No. 1 — but it hasn't escaped their attention that CONCACAF is having more success than most expected in Brazil.
“We're excited for CONCACAF doing well in this tournament because we feel like the Europeans and some of the other regions, they don't really respect how we have to get to the World Cup,” Beckerman said. “And when CONCACAF does well, they get a different perspective on what we have to go through.
“And now it's our turn to try to hold the flag up for CONCACAF. It's awesome for our region and it's going to go a long way for individual players and for a possible extra slot in the World Cup in the future.”
Scott Pierce covers Real Salt Lake for MLSsoccer.com.