By Mike Woitalla
It's been a dozen years since the USA's greatest World Cup performance and only one player on the 2014 U.S. World Cup team, DaMarcus Beasley, was part of it.
Landon Donovan, cut from the 2014 World Cup team on Thursday, and Beasley were 20-year-olds on the Bruce Arena-coached squad that reached the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup.
Besides the beard, Beasley doesn’t look much different than he did back then, when his darting forays down the flank helped the USA upset pre-tournament favorite Portugal, 3-2, in the opener opening game in South Korea.
Now about to go to his fourth World Cup, Beasley recalled what Arena’s advice before his World Cup debut.
"He told me to have fun,” Beasley said before training earlier in the week at Stanford University. "'Play how you always play. Forget the crowd. Forget about the World Cup and just play. Show why you’re here and why you’re going to start.’ Being a young kid, that information was great.”
The next two World Cups didn’t go as well for Beasley. He disappointed as the USA fell in the first round at Germany 2006 and played only 10 minutes at South Africa 2010.
His club career, which started in MLS at age 17, has also been a roller coaster.
In 2004, PSV Eindhoven coach Guus Hiddink acquired Beasley as a replacement for Arjen Robben. The Indiana product whose moves earned him the nickname “Jitterbug” from U-17 national team coach John Ellinger, became the first American to reach the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League. During that run, Beasley scored four goals in 11 appearances. He won two Dutch league titles with PSV.
But injuries began to plague him. After a knee injury made him expendable at PSV, it sent him to Manchester City on loan. He had 11 EPL starts and seven appearances as a sub, scoring three goals. Then he played only 20 games for Glasgow Rangers in 2007-10.
The following season in Germany with Hannover 96 saw him play just four times. It was the move to Mexico’s Puebla in 2011 that put Beasley on the path to another World Cup.
Jurgen Klinsmann invited Beasley to the national team for its World Cup qualifier in March 2013 against Costa Rica, which would be played in a blizzard and end in a 1-0 win. Beasley, one of the USA’s most exciting attacking players ever, was asked to take on a different role.
“I’ve played a lot of different positions in the national team, from forward to left mid, right mid. Center mid, in the back,” Beasley said. “The left back came from the snow game against Costa Rica. He [Klinsmann] asked me if I could play it. Timmy Chandler was out. Fabian Johnson was out. Parky [Michael Parkhurst] was out. Every left back you could ever imagine was out.
“That was my first call-up for a while. He asked me if I could play it, so I said, ‘Yeah.’ That was it. He had confidence in me since that day to play that position and here I am now.”
Four days later, he started in the 0-0 tie against Mexico at Azteca Stadium, and later in 2013 he captained the USA to the Gold Cup title.
How does this U.S. squad compare to the 2002 team that outplayed but fell 1-0 to Germany in the quarterfinals?
“Now you have $6 to $8 million players on the team, so expectations have changed,” he says. “You have a lot of players at big clubs. It’s different from when I first came on the scene.
“It’s tough to say if we’re better than we were back then, because I think the 2002 team was a great team. It’s tough to compare. But the fans, the media and we expect more. We expect to get out of this group and we want to better that 2002 team and get past the quarterfinals.”