WASHINGTON — Just counting the miles, it’s a long way from Bowie, Maryland, to Brazil. For Kyle Beckerman, the journey to the South American nation and the World Cup with the United States Men’s National Team is about the experiences and emotions packed into those miles.
Dream it, believe it and achieve it. That’s what Beckerman has done. It was his dream from his days growing up in Crofton, Maryland, and playing club soccer in Bowie and Laurel to make the U.S. team and to be a part of this planet’s most watched sporting event. Now Beckerman is in Brazil preparing for the start of the World Cup.
“It’s surreal,” Beckerman said last week from Jacksonville where he started for the United States in its final friendly before the World Cup, a 2-1 win over Nigeria. “It still needs some sinking in. Each day it becomes a little bit more real that I made the team.”
Beckerman’s story is about perseverance. At 32, this will be his first World Cup, 16 years removed from when he first played at U.S. National Team youth level. Beckerman was part of the side that finished fourth in 1999 at the Under-17 World Cup. That team featured Landon Donovan.
By 2002, Donovan had moved on from the youth to the senior level and played in his first World Cup. At the same time, Beckerman, who graduated in 2000 from Arundel High School in Gambrills, Maryland, was into his third season of professional soccer and was trying to forge a successful career after having already suffered a broken leg in his rookie season.
While he wasn’t on the fast track to the U.S. Men’s National Team and a World Cup, Beckerman had the strength and foundation to live and play in the moment. He believed through hard work his World Cup dream could come true. Beckerman’s drive goes all the way back to when he was 4 years old and he was trying to compete with his 8-year-old brother Todd.
“I was lucky, I guess, because I had an older brother,” said Beckerman. “I just kind of tagged along with him and I got to play against some older kids, and so you have to learn quick how to play with bigger and stronger players at a young age.”
By the time he was 8 in 1990, Beckerman had become attached to soccer. That was the year the United States qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. The accomplishment of the National Team was significant, and so was the impact the tournament that summer in Italy had on Beckerman.
“I had soccer fever at that time,” Beckerman recalled. “I remember my mom finding it for me on TV. I remember taping all the games on VHS and re-watching the games. I even remember the call when West Germany scored the (penalty kick) against Argentina. My mom was great at finding things out. I still remember it to this day and that really opened my eyes to the world of soccer.”
Kyle Beckerman holds up the trophy after his Real Salt Lake club won the MLS Cup last December. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
With eyes wide open, soccer became a bigger part of Beckerman’s life. Parents Paul and Meg Beckerman, both school teachers, would then make sure to get Kyle to better club teams in Bowie and Laurel even though it meant a longer drive from their Crofton home. Visits to U.S. Men’s National Team games at RFK Stadium were a must.
“Any magazine that came out, the posters of the National Team players went up on my wall,” Beckerman said with excitement in his voice. “Those guys were my heroes. That’s when the dream and goals start to be planted at a young age, and then it is about putting in the work to go after it.”
The dream was real and alive now inside Beckerman. After the World Cup in 1990, the U.S. team started to play more often in Washington, D.C.
Beckerman remembers the thrill of collecting autographs from players like Tony Meola and Claudio Reyna. Soon after, he was signing his own autograph on notes he left for his parents.
“I really wanted to be a professional soccer player like those guys and play for the U.S.,” said Beckerman. “So whenever I was down the street or at the school playing, I would end the note (I left) with my name in cursive and USA #15.”
As a kid growing up in suburban Maryland, Beckerman was involved in a variety of sports. Like his older brother, Todd, Kyle wrestled. Todd Beckerman is now the head wrestling coach at Brown University. To achieve success in his true passion of soccer Kyle Beckerman credits his time on the mat with helping him on the field.
“(Wrestling) really puts such a huge emphasis on discipline and mental toughness,” he explained. “That helped give me my drive and (helped me) to be prepared to work and improve as a player. It also helped me to be ready, because if that time comes and you are called and you are not ready, you might not get that opportunity again.”
Beckerman did have to wait. As he continued to build a name in Major League Soccer, there were calls and appearances with the National Team. But there was no World Cup for Beckerman in 2006.
He became captain of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake in 2008, where he won the MLS Cup in 2009. Still there would be no spot on the World Cup team for Beckerman in 2010.
Enter Jurgen Klinsmann, whom Beckerman watched star for West Germany in the 1990 World Cup on television, as the head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team. Beckerman made an impression on Klinsmann with his tenacity and ability to distribute from a defensive midfield position.
At long last this year, the dream came true. Beckerman will wear number 15 in Brazil for the U.S. team. Just like he said he would when he was signed notes for his parents so many years ago.
“My parents sacrificed so much to get me to where I am,” said Beckerman. “They were both school teachers and they had hectic days. It was hard for them to get off work and then drive me to practice and drive me to games on the weekends. Sometimes we would have to drive for a tournament out of state. They were always my biggest support and biggest fans. I am so grateful that I can repay them with his. They knew how much of a goal this was for me, and so for them to get to go down there and throw on a jersey and cheer me on will be just awesome.”