Friday, April 6, 2012
Real Salt Lake's Bekerman inspires love, hate
Come Saturday, with a match against his former MLS club Colorado, Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman no doubt will play with ferocity, dreadlocks flying and vocal chords straining as he barks at referees and opposing players.
Off the field, the soon-to-be 30-year-old has a temperament more like Daisy the Bulldog, whom he lovingly petted after practice this week before happily stopping to pose for photos with six young fans.
It's a split personality as noticeable as his hair.
"I don't know what it is, something goes on and just the lion comes out,'' Beckerman said of his alter ego. "I try to control it the best I can, but I'm emotional, passionate about our team and each year I try to tame it a little, tame it a little, then it just comes out without me even knowing it.''
The passion has helped turn him into a leader in Utah, where nearly five years after his shocking trade he is the face of the franchise as well as its heart and soul.
While that passion has endeared him to fans of RSL, which sits alone atop the Western Conference standings with four wins in five games to start the season, the opposite is true around the league.
There's a website started by an FC Dallas fan called "I Hate Kyle Beckerman.''
Accumulated yellow cards forced Beckerman to miss Real Salt Lake's second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against Monterrey last April.
He also was suspended three games last September and fined $1,250 for head-butting Chicago's Daniel Paladini.
Beckerman apologized for the incident then and simply acknowledges, "Some things I want to tame and some things I absolutely want to keep, but the yellow cards I want to stop.''
Time will tell if that happens, but there's no question the reggae-loving, guitar-playing outdoor enthusiast has found a home in Salt Lake City, where he now even owns a home and has a girlfriend.
He said a perfect day would be breakfast at the Red Moose Coffee Company, a hike in the mountains and an outdoor concert.
He's even talking to teammates about a camping trip.
"When he gets his mind on something and wants to do it, he'll go that next day to go get camping gear, tents and he'll bring the guys with him,'' said best buddy Nick Rimando, RSL's goalkeeper, who was in Miami when Beckerman was an 18-year-old MLS rookie. "It's starting to get nice out. I don't doubt he'll go.''
That determination hasn't changed but Beckerman's game has had to evolve.
"When I first came in the league, I was an attacking player,'' he said.
That didn't get him on the field much, so he eventually moved to defensive midfield, where he has been critical to Real Salt Lake's success. The team went from laughingstock in 2007 to MLS Cup champion in 2009 and to the Western Conference finals last season where it lost to the eventual champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
"At some point you have to let go of all the ego stuff, let go of being the goal scorer, because you're not going to be that anymore,'' said Beckerman, now in his 13th season. "You're doing the stuff that's just going to help the team or get somebody else to score. Some people don't want to do that and they can't. But you have to get it in your head `This is my job' and embrace it.''
Last weekend at Portland, Beckerman showed he still has offensive punch, drilling home the game-winner in the 93rd minute during stoppage time to earn RSL three points.
"It great because he fights so hard,'' said Rimando, who used the words hard-working, loyal, humble, community-oriented and passionate in describing Beckerman. "He's the guy to pull us all together.
Beckerman also has been rewarded with more appearances on the U.S. National Team since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as coach, and this offseason received the opportunity to train with one of the more storied clubs in Germany.
That meant no time for surfing in Costa Rica, which he had done in the offseason until 2009.
And while he gets a sheepish grin when asked if he's been skiing or snowboarding in Utah, he says those things can wait until his soccer days are over.
A foot injury a few years back made him realize how quickly things could end.
"I only have one career, so I've got to get it in as much as I can,'' he said.
Approaching 30 also has meant taking better care of his body. Rimando sees a guy who 12 years ago lived on Hot Pockets and microwavable food now shopping at Whole Foods.
Beckerman also can even be seen working out on Pilates' machines alongside ballerinas and the like.
"It's my experiment this year to see what happens,'' he said. "So far it's been making my body feel better than in years past.''
After all, he has to keep up with Colorado defensive midfielder Pablo Maestroni, who will turn 36 this summer.
"I can't stop before him, so I'm trying to keep my body good and keep my focus,'' Beckerman said.
He also wants to keep the Rocky Mountain Cup, which the two rival clubs have vied for each season.
Beckerman has always been on the winning side and doesn't want that to change Saturday when the teams meet at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
"As long as Kyle's on my team, I hope he stays perfect,'' said Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson.
Beckerman wants the game, too. But after seeing RSL lose in the conference finals last season, he has an eye on the bigger picture.
"We have a good team, with good players and this could be something special this year, but we've still got lot of hard work in front of us,'' Beckerman said.
His role figures to be even more important now with midfielders Ned Grabavoy and Javier Morales out for a while after injuries suffered in Wednesday's 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact. With main playmaker Morales out last year, Beckerman picked up the slack, with three goals and a career-best nine assists (including six game-winning helpers).
"He's unbelievable,'' said midfielder Jonny Steele, an Irishman whom Beckerman has taken under his wing. "The first day he arrived I saw how he lifted the whole atmosphere. He comes in with a smile, shakes everyone's hand, gets everyone upbeat, is always upbeat. He really is a good guy.