I'll admit it—I've never been a big fan of Kyle Beckerman.
I couldn't understand why he got national team call-ups, let alone playing time, and when he did get on the field his performances were always underwhelming.
Most damning, for me, was his performance against Jamaica in World Cup qualifying in September 2012. In the match, Beckerman struggled and was a key contributor to the U.S.' loss. After the match, I commented:
On Friday night, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones seemed to be having a competition to see who could play worse. Beckerman was poor for most of the night, giving away possession and getting beat on the dribble repeatedly. He was mercifully replaced in the 61st minute. It is difficult as a fan to be so hard on players who repeatedly answer their nation’s call-ups. The fault with Beckerman’s selection lies firmly with USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann needs to be seriously questioned if Beckerman dons the USMNT jersey again.
The next day, I asked if Jurgen Klinsmann was the only person who thinks Kyle Beckerman is USMNT-worthy?
And I wasn't alone in my criticism of Beckerman. Sports Illustrated's Avi Creditor wrote about the Jamaica game: "Beckerman's bright start gave way to a bit of a nightmare evening...Beckerman looked a step behind for much of the night, committing some desperate fouls."
And the New York Times' Brian Sciaretta wrote: "Klinsmann has given Beckerman many chances to succeed but that may end after Tuesday night. Beckerman was simply ineffective on both sides of the ball...Beckerman was simply poor."
After the match, there weren't too many fans still willing to defend Beckerman, and most wrote off any chance he had of representing the U.S. at the World Cup in 2014.
My impression of Beckerman began to change this past summer in the Gold Cup. Although he was largely ripped for this pass against Belize, he played well in the early games, even if it was against inferior levels of competition.
As the tournament wore on and the competition level increased, Beckerman continued to be an important part of the U.S.'s midfield, controlling possession in transition and staying home to allow his midfield partner—usually Mix Diskerud or Stuart Holden—to go forward in the attack.
In speaking with Beckerman after the Gold Cup, I asked him if he thought his strong performances had helped his World Cup chances, but he remained humble saying: "I don’t know—a year is a long time in any professional sport. A lot of things can happen, so I don’t think I can look that far ahead. I think all of us that were in the Gold Cup helped our chances to continue in the process. All we can do is keep at it, keep working hard and keep winning.”
Beckerman's strong performance in the Gold Cup did earn him a renewed chance with the "A" side and in September. With Michael Bradley out injured, Beckerman was given the start against Mexico in the all-important World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio. He performed well this time, staying home defensively and helping guide the U.S. to a 2-0 win over their archrivals. And earlier this month, Beckerman got another start against Mexico and again played well.
Beckerman's value to the United States men's national team lies in two key areas. First, is his willingness to "stay home" and sit in front of the center-backs, which provides cover and allows his midfield partner to go forward. This was evident against Mexico, as Michael Bradley had an outstanding game linking the U.S. back line with the forwards and wide midfielders. Bradley was given that freedom because of Beckerman's defensive work.
Beckerman's second important asset is his ability to play simple possession. He does an excellent job checking back for the ball, coming, at times, all the way into the back line to receive the ball and begin the U.S. attack.
With the U.S. likely to take four center midfielders to Brazil, Kyle Beckerman deserves a place alongside Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Mix Diskerud. Maurice Edu certainly offers a more athletic option, but Beckerman has done more over the past year to earn his spot as Edu was rarely called in to the team due to his lack of playing time at the club level.
How much playing time Beckerman receives in Brazil, and if he is a better choice to partner Bradley in the U.S.' midfield rather than Jones are other questions. But in his performances for the United States since last summer, Beckerman has proved that he's worthy of a spot in the final 23-man roster headed to the World Cup.
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