PHOENIX – It doesn’t seem so long ago that Tony Beltran was making his debut for Real Salt Lake at 20 years old.
He might as well be a grizzled vet now at 24, already counting four MLS seasons under his belt. The 2012 campaign could be a biggest one yet for Beltran, who’s hoping to show he’s one of the top attacking fullbacks in the league.
Beltran has plenty of experience but has never been the clear-cut, every-match starter for RSL. Along with Chris Wingert and Robbie Russell, he was part of a three-man platoon system last year that rotated between both outside back spots in 2011.
Russell is gone after being traded to D.C. United, leaving Wingert and Beltran as the incumbents to open the season as starters.
The right back spot is Beltran’s to lose or keep, it seems.
“The past four years we had a nice thing going on with Russell here; him, ‘Wing’ and I splitting time,” Beltran told MLSsoccer.com after Sunday’s intrasquad scrimmage at RSL’s preseason camp in Arizona. “Obviously, there’s a lot of games during the season. Now that [Russell has] moved on, it’s a big chance for me to just really solidify myself as one of the top outside backs in the league, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Beltran, by the looks the scrimmage, will be asked to push the ball forward and help start Real Salt Lake’s attack. He showed an ability to provide dangerous service and said he enjoys the role.
Beltran also feels like he’s part of the core of the team, having been in Utah so long and with a few of the previous mainstays having moved on. He credits RSL’s success as a championship contender every year to the mentality coach Jason Kreis has instilled in his players.
“The team is the star,” Beltran said. “It’s about the team and we work for each other. ... We’re a family out there.”
Beltran is satisfied with the way the RSL technical staff has brought him along as far as development as a player. But Kreis, ever the constructively critical observer and prone to the cautionary response, said he still needs to see more consistency from Beltran in order for him to ascend to a higher level on the pitch.
“What I’ve seen of him over the past several years is we’ll get into a run where things are going really, really well and he’s full of confidence and full of contributions to the team, both without the ball and with the ball,” Kreis said. “And then we have some runs where he’s lacking some confidence, and I think ... he’s got to make the runs where he’s not confident and not playing as well shorter.”