Beasley: Not qualifying for World Cup was blessing in disguise

  • Only USA national team player to play in four FIFA World Cups

  • Silver Ball winner at the 1999 U-17 World Cup

  • Beasley tells some World Cup qualifying stories and gives his views on the current USMNT

DaMarcus Beasley was one of the first names on the USA team-sheet from the moment he sprung on to the scene at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, just days after celebrating his 20th birthday.

An astonishingly consistent, two-decade career saw him go on to become the only US men's national team player to feature in four World Cup tournaments and in five qualifying cycles for the competition.

Beasley retired from the game at the end of the 2019 Major League Soccer (MLS) season. In a World Cup qualifying week that sees USA begin their road to Qatar 2022, caught up with a player who knows everything about that preliminary journey and to learn how the transition to his post-career life has been going.

“It hasn’t been easy. I won’t sugar coat it,” Beasley admitted. “I knew when I retired I wanted to take some time away from the game.”

The Fort Wayne, Indiana native, who became a co-owner of newly-formed, lower-division club Fort Wayne FC last year, now gets to spend more time with his daughter, who was born just before Brazil 2014, when he was playing for Puebla in Liga MX.

“I missed training to be with her at her birth and the next day we had a game and I actually scored!" he said. "She was already giving me luck and strength and she didn’t even know it. Her mom would send me pictures (when I was in Brazil) and it really made me feel whole. But now that I’m retired, she’s done with football; she’s all about gymnastics, swimming and dance!”

As a kid himself, Beasley’s path to football was pre-determined and non-negotiable in many ways as he followed in the footsteps of his highly-talented older brother Jamar. “I wanted to be like him," said DaMarcus. "He was a beast back then. A lot of people don’t know but he was the first player to be signed straight out of high school in MLS in 1998.”

Jamar played on the USA U-20s in 1999 with the likes of Tim Howard, Taylor Twellman and Carlos Bocanegra before going on to have a successful futsal career. Later that same year, DaMarcus was with the U-17 national team in New Zealand, where he won the adidas Silver Ball award, helping the US finish fourth.

World Cup qualifying reflections

His success at youth level ended up translating into the senior set-up, where he became one of the most decorated players the country has ever produced, winning 126 caps. World Cup qualifying made up a significant portion of his national team career, so what does he remember most from those cycles?

“I remember qualifying the most! (laughs) Every time we did, it was great, but the one time we didn’t… well, we don’t have to talk about that. You always remember the game that you qualify. That feeling is indescribable. It was hard.

“People say Concacaf is one of the easiest regions to get out of, but people don’t understand how difficult it was. Concacaf makes you tough. Going to places like Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras; it was hot, the grass felt as high as your knees.

“Just from getting off the plane, going to the hotel, there would always happen to be some kind of festival the day before the game. Always. Your phones would be ringing. There would be a party outside the hotel, trying to make it hard for us to sleep. Sometimes we were put on the 13th floor for bad luck. Before the team had its own chef, the food wasn’t great. It was difficult.

"Every country and player wants to play in a World Cup. That’s the dream. Sometimes we had to play ugly football to win a game. Every game was a battle. Along with Mexico, every side wants to beat the US. The team we would see on film was never the same we would see on the pitch.

“The whole country was behind each team we faced, from the airport staff to the hotel staff to the taxi drivers, the president; they’re all behind the team. That’s real. That’s what we faced as a team. Mentally it was tough but you had to get in and get dirty sometimes. It’s hard to explain it all and understand what it was like unless you actually experienced it.”

During his time with the team the US had a lot of joy and found success playing in Jamaica. Beasley remembers DJ and reggae artist Beenie Man played before a match. “We were warming up and he’s singing and rapping in the background… that was pretty cool. The fruit we had there, too, tasted way better than what we get in the US!”

Thoughts on new generation of USMNT

The USA have begun their Qatar 2022 qualifying journey with one of Beasley’s former team-mates Gregg Berhalter at the helm. The format for 2022 is expanded with each nation in the Concacaf 'Octagonal' playing 14 matches, seven home and seven away. He’s optimistic about the team’s prospects.

“I think they’re in a good groove right now. Not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup was a blessing in disguise. I say that because I don’t think we would’ve had this much of a youth impact if we had qualified. It was time to get a lot of the veterans out and start fresh and start new. There’s so much talent in America. We all see it from the clubs that some of these kids are playing at, and they’re actually important to those clubs.”

One player who will be crucial in bridging the gap from the past failed qualifying cycle to the current team will be Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, whose message to the team will be clear: nothing’s given.

“He knows what it feels like,” said Beasley. “He knows how tough it is. He was a kid in 2017 and arguably already one of our best players. He was getting kicked and knocked around but he just got up and played. That’s just what it’s going to take. You can’t risk getting red cards trying to get in a fighting match with other players. He handled it like a true professional and got up and put the ball in the back of the net.

“2022 is going to be difficult. A lot of the players are getting their feet wet with the national team. Playing for your country is a different animal. I think this World Cup will be a great learning curve. I’m excited about it and I think they’ll do well. I know they haven’t qualified yet but when they do get there, they’ll do well because of that youthful exuberance. I’m looking forward to seeing them qualify.”

DENVER, CO - JUNE 03: United States head coach Gregg Berhalter chats with United States forward Christian Pulisic 10 in action during the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal match between the United States and Honduras on June 03, 2021, at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, CO. Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire SOCCER: JUN 03 Concacaf Nations League Semfinal - Honduras v USA Icon164210603059

Beasley’s best memories from each World Cup

Korea/Japan 2002: “That was my first one. I got named to the team when I was 19 and turned 20 on the plane to South Korea. That was crazy. Going up against the golden era of Portugal with Figo, Conceicao, Rui Costa etc. No one gave us a shot to win. To start that game and win my first match was a moment I’ll never forget. I had that no-fear attitude because I was young.”

Germany 2006: “It was difficult. Our worst showing by far. We only played one decent half that tournament (the second half of a 1-1 draw against eventual champions Italy). Mentally we just weren’t there. Maybe that’s because we were reading the hype because we were ranked fourth or fifth by FIFA at the time going into it.”

South Africa 2010: “Being in Africa the first time was amazing. The way they embraced the World Cup as a country was amazing. I could’ve done without the vuvuzelas (laughs)! Other than that, it was beautiful. I remember Shakria’s song 'Waka Waka' a lot. Beating Algeria and Landon scoring that goal; being on the field for that was amazing. I just got finished defending the cross and couldn’t keep up with Landon!”

Brazil 2014: “Just being in Brazil, where the soccer is so rich. Football is life. Football is Brazil. Brazilians are football. The whole country stopped when they were playing. We were so close to getting to the quarter-finals, but I remember the win against Ghana a lot, too. Timmy (Howard) had an unbelievable game against Belgium.”