DaMarcus Beasley had never started a game at left back until 2009. When asked about playing there, he was testy, refusing to answer any questions about the position and saying he would “obviously” prefer to play as a midfielder. Four years later, he donned the captain’s band while manning the once-disliked position, pressing in attack from the back in a comfortable 6-1 victory over Belize to kick off the Gold Cup.
Beasley was part of the wave of promising youngsters, a deft but slight winger with ball skills who was recognized for his pace and goal-scoring touch. There’s another player who came up with Beasley who fits this description, and he just notched 50 goals and 50 assists, the first international player to post those stats for any nation.[ref] this seemingly incredible feat does have a caveat: assists have only been recorded since 1994, so the legends of yesteryear are excluded[/ref] Compared to Landon Donovan‘s success, Beasley has struggled for much of his international career.
He came on to the major international scene as a 20-year old starter[ref] as was Donovan, who was the same age[/ref] for the surprising United States team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Beasley also starred for the MLS’ Chicago Fire, and his performances impressed dutch club PSV, who needed a replacement for Arjen Robben. They were big shoes to fill, as Robben is a premier winger in Europe.
Beasley wasn’t awful, per se, but he never found his groove. Injuries hurt him while in Europe, and he bounced around different clubs. PSV loaned him to Manchester City for a season, then sold him to Rangers in Scotland. This was around the same time that National Team head coach Bruce Arena criticized Beasley for his poor play in the 2006 World Cup, which saw the U.S. bounced in the group stage. He got hurt while playing for Rangers and could never work his way back into the rotation. He played only sporadically through 2010, when he moved to German club Hannover 96, and left Germany for Mexican club Puebla less than a year later. Beasley barely played for the United States in the 2010 World Cup; after the tournament, he made only four substitute appearances in international play until March of 2013.
The United States has had difficulty finding a clear first choice left back. Jonathan Bornstein, Bob Bradley’s choice for some of his time in charge, was wretched during the 2011 Gold Cup final against Mexico, and we haven’t seen much of him since. Eric Lichaj generated some buzz but never solidified himself. Jonathan Spector and Edgar Castillo have made starts. Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler are young talents playing in Germany who are the most promising left backs of the future for the United States; Johnson probably has the best chance of anchoring the position down the line.
But neither Chandler nor Johnson are playing for the USMNT in the Gold Cup. The Gold Cup isn’t a tournament on the same scale or with the same sense of urgency as next year’s World Cup, so the team isn’t the best squad the United States could field. Mainstays like Donovan[ref] fresh off hiatus and trying to get on good terms with Klinsmann[/ref] and Stuart Holden, who is returning from injury, are suiting up for the side, but players like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore are sitting out this tournament. It’s a great chance to try new things and thrust different players into the spotlight in preparation for the upcoming World Cup.
After a series of strong performances at left back, coach Jurgen Klinsmann turned to a seasoned veteran, not only to shore up left back, but to wear the captain’s armband, bestowed upon the leader on the pitch. Beasley’s appointment to captaincy surprised some, mainly because he’s only been contributing to the USMNT under Klinsmann for a few months. But it makes sense: A guy with lengthy international and European experience, finally finding his form with Puebla. A guy who has seen three different regimes with the national team, who has played in a Champions League semi-final, competed in some of the top leagues in Europe and North America. Now 31, Beasley is a veteran on this young squad, earning over 100 international caps for the Stars and Stripes. When examined outside of Donovan’s imposing shadow, Beasley has enjoyed an impressive career. Donovan, not on the best of terms with Klinsmann after taking a sabbatical, was passed over for the captaincy in favor of Beasley, a rare role reversal within the tandem.
He’s accepted the challenge of playing more defensively than he’s used to, and looks to lead his squad to a finals clash against Mexico that seems all but inevitable, based on the last few iterations of the Gold Cup. Beasley played left back a few months ago in a 0-0 draw against Mexico at their notoriously difficult home field, Estadio Azteca. It was only the second point the USMNT had ever extracted while playing in that stadium, a promising result, especially for the defense. Now, with another Mexico clash looming large, Beasley has already proven that he can man a back line that has what it takes to silence the Mexican strikeforce.
“DaMarcus is a pure giver. When we called him in back in March he told me he would play whatever role we asked, and he has proven his point over the last several months with some tremendous performances,” said Klinsmann upon appointing Beasley captain.
His attitude towards left back seems to have evolved. After a long and winding road, Beasley may have arrived. Again.