This is turning out to be a year fraught with nostalgia for USA soccer fans. Another icon has called it quits.
The greatest player to wear the shirt, Landon Donovan, announced his retirement from not just the national team but the pro gig altogether back in August. On Monday, one of his counterparts followed suit, an effervescent, Midwestern black kid quick of wit and feet who would blossom into the very personification of the American game’s alternate hipness.
Before soccer got to be cool, DaMarcus Beasley was way cool. Donovan might have been the best, and others such as Claudio Reyna and Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel and Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride accomplished more overseas, but when it came to eradicating the American stigma of soccer as a stodgy, suburban, wimpy sport, nobody did more than the Beas.
Beasley dipped and deked and dazzled amongst the Goliaths and bounced back from the punishing hits. Knock him down, yes, but keep him down, no way. He brought more than talent and instinct and confidence to the fray; the Beas had style.
Too small for soccer? At 5-foot-8 (maybe) and 140 pounds, Beasley was too small for table tennis. Not even clever and nippy left wingers were that tiny. From his earliest days on the field, Beas could fly, yet it was his cunning and bravery that enabled him to punish teams whose coaches were beholden to behemoths.
Nature and circumstance had played a ironic joke by assigning him a childhood in Indiana, the basketball-mad state where the sport of choice mocked his stature. Yet in the mid-1990s, youth soccer had established a foothold in most locales, including Fort Wayne, and he and his brother Jamar soon established their reputations as special players.
DaMarcus packed up and left home to join the inaugural class at the U.S. Soccer Residency program in Bradenton, Fla., and before too long, he was buzzing around the soccer fields of New Zealand at the 1999 FIFA U-17 world championships alongside Donovan, Kyle Beckerman, Bobby Convey and Oguchi Onyewu, all of whom would later represent the senior team at a World Cup. Donovan won the Golden Ball as tournament MVP, Beasley got a silver trophy as runner-up. Their legendary careers had been launched.
But only the Beas would play in four World Cups. Last May Donovan was cut less a month from what would have been his fourth appearance. Reyna and Keller were named to four squads but played in just three and two competitions, respectively. As precocious teenagers, Beasley and Donovan lit up the 2002 tournament in the USA’s quarterfinal performance, they labored through a disappointing first-round exit at the 2006 competition, and in 2010 Beasley managed just one appearance as a sub; Donovan’s stoppage-time stunner against Algeria is one of the greatest moments in USA soccer history.
Beasley dropped off the radar screen for a while playing in Mexico, but when recalled by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in 2013, he took over the troublesome left-back position well enough to help shut down Costa Rica in a Colorado snowstorm and captain the team to a Gold Cup triumph. He defied the skeptics again when he played every minute at the 2014 World Cup. Several of Klinsmann’s positional and tactical decisions didn’t work out, but Beasley’s drive and experience and professionalism patched up what had been an open sore in the U.S. lineup. Renowned for blowing past and embarrassing defenders, he transformed himself into one of them while retaining those attacking virtues.
After the World Cup, he came back to MLS to sign with Houston, the eighth club in a career during which he’s played in two MLS Cup finals for Chicago, reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals with PSV Eindhoven and survived onerous injury setbacks at Manchester City and Glasgow Rangers. At 32, he’s already played more than 300 club matches and won four league titles overseas with PSV and Rangers.
His personal life is just as engaging. For a while he sported a gold chain attached to a golden No. 7 (his jersey number). While in the Netherlands, he was arrested for driving under the influence. At the 2002 World Cup, a camera recorded him urinating near the U.S. team bench during the Mexico game. He endured racist monkey chants when he scored his first goal for Rangers during a European match in Montenegro. In Scotland, a firebombing vandal who was never apprehended destroyed his BMW valued at $80,000.
Want Beas highlights? Check out the incredible goal he smashed home from a ridiculous angle at the 2003 MLS Cup final. How about the left-footed laser he drilled inside the far post against Mexico in 2005, or his clever steal and precise pass to set up Dempsey to score against Ghana in 2006? A brazen dribble earned the penalty kick by which the USA beat Canada in the 2007 Gold Cup semifinal.
The curtain came down last month against Colombia in a friendly at Craven Cottage, where numerous U.S. players turned out for Fulham and the stadium pub bears the name “McBride’s.” Fourteen years of service, 121 caps (fifth on the all-time list), and 17 goals are impressive stats, but Beasley’s dynamic style and exuberant persona are what changed the game on and off the field.