SANDY, Utah – A year after leading the team in minutes, defender Tony Beltran is once again punching the clock daily to put in his work for Real Salt Lake. And after getting a taste of the US national team, his durability and consistency could help him get more opportunities under Jurgen Klinsmann this summer as the USMNT head coach looks to field an MLS-heavy squad at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Beltran started in 32 games in the 2012 season, logging 2,857 minutes. To begin the 2013 season, he has started and played a full 90 minutes in all seven games in which he was available, his only absence coming when he was away with the national team for RSL's 2-0 loss to Dallas March 23. Only Chris Schuler (eight games, 720 minutes) and Luis Gil (eight games, 652 minutes) have logged more time on the pitch for the team.
"[Being an iron man] is something that I want," Beltran told MLSsoccer.com after training Wednesday. "Obviously, every player wants to stay healthy, but I have been able to contribute to the team week in and week out and try to get better. The only way to do that is to keep playing in the games."
Since being taken with the No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft, Beltran has been steadily getting better and acknowledges he is a much smarter player now than he was five years ago.
"I think when I was younger I relied a little bit more on my athleticism, on my quickness to just get by," said Beltran. "I was able to take a bad touch here or there, or maybe not know what I was going to do with the ball before I got it.
"That has been a big thing Jason [Kreis] was trying to drill in me the first couple of years, is thinking a play ahead and knowing where the ball needs to go next. I think I've improved there. And then of course, I'm a defender, so my one-on-one defending is something I pride myself on and try to get better with each game."
Another way he has shown improvement is simply by knowing exactly what is expected of him in coach Jason Kreis' system.
"I wouldn't say it is that tough," said Beltran. "It is demanding physically. I do a lot of running. My friends joke with me all I do is sprint up and down the sideline, but it's fun because then I'm able to get into the attack, able to contribute forward. But I enjoy doing my job, which is getting back and cleaning things up in the back. I enjoy the system. I prefer it. That is why I'm so happy here."
Beltran will have his work cut out for him this week as RSL host the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium (9 pm ET, watch FREE on Stream of the Week on MLSsoccer.com). But Beltran also is not intimidated or backing down from the challenge.
"It's just another game," he said. "I'm just looking at it as we have three games at home and we need to keep up the positive form we started last week and then get better."