“It was the same score as the last time we played the Germans, but it turned out different for us today,” DaMarcus Beasley told FIFA.com in the tunnel of the Arena Pernambuco, celebrating after a 1-0 loss to Germany. The result wasn't ideal, but it was enough to take him and his American teammates through to the Round of 16 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. “You saw the elbows flying out there. It’s very difficult to play against the Germans.”
Beasley would know, too. He is the only member of the American team here in Brazil that experienced first-hand the heartbreak of a 1-0 loss to the Mannschaft at the 2002 World Cup. Back then he was a wide-eyed winger, full of speed and attacking plunder. He was just 20 years old, an offensive raider. His nickname was Jitterbug, ill suited to him now well into his thirties, and he was the future of the game in America.
Twelve years on, he has a few lines under his eyes. On his chin is a beard with some grey hairs poking through. And now he’s a defender.
Beasley is playing in his fourth World Cup, given a new lease on his international life by USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “DaMarcus is a pure giver,” the German boss said of him. After an international absence of more than a year, most thought Beasley’s time was over for the Stars and Stripes. But Klinsmann called him back into the side last summer, even made him captain briefly, to try and fill a problem position: left back.
“I’m an attacker in my heart,” Beasley said, leaning against the wall, taking selfies with injured teammate Jozy Altidore. “My eyes still get big when I get near the box. But my first job is staying back and protecting the goal. It’s cool to throw yourself into a tackle every once in a while though.”
Second chances are hard to come by, and Beasley is all smiles. He’s enjoying his. “Now that we’re in to the knockout rounds it’s one and done,” he said, German players nodding as they walked by. It was a joint party in Recife as both teams went through, nothing like 12 years ago when the loss to Germany in Korea by the same score sent a talented USA side home wondering what might have been. “We want to take it to the next level now," Beasley said after getting through one of the toughest groups of the competition. "You’re getting a lot of weird results in this Cup. Anything can happen.”
A long 12 years
No one else in the team, not even Tim Howard or Clint Dempsey, can look back as far as Beasley. The winger-turned-defender is a time capsule of one of the most productive moments in the country’s history. “US soccer has grown in big ways,” said Beasley, who's played over 100 times for USA. “We have depth now that we didn’t have before. We like to keep the ball. We have players in Europe and playing in big clubs.”
Beasley blazed the trail for many of the players he’s talking about, leaving Major League Soccer after the 2002 finals and featuring for Rangers in Scotland, PSV Eindhoven and Manchester City when American players were still a rarity on European shores. Now he's finishing up his career in Mexico, a country where US players still have a hard time finding respect. Beasley has no trouble at all, a fan favourite for club side Puebla.
His phone buzzes with texts and alerts in his pocket. Messages are coming in from back home. The popularity of the game in the States has sky-rocketed in the last 12 years, and an estimated 25 million American TV viewers watched USA play Portugal in Manaus. “People are going crazy back home,” he said. “And look at these traveling fans. We’re outnumbering everyone. People noticed us in 2002, but this is something different now.”
So much has changed for DaMarcus Beasley through the years, but his passion for the game in his country is undiminished. “When I’m done I still want to see US soccer grow more,” he concluded, knowing this will be his last World Cup. “I want to pass something on,” he added, a tiny melancholy creeping into his voice before he made his way to the team bus.