ussoccer.com: What’s the question you are most tired of answering?
Kyle Beckerman: How long have you been growing your dreads? (laughs) The answer is seven or eight years.
ussoccer.com: You’ve been a part of this qualifying campaign from start to finish. What have been your impressions overall?
KB: “First off, it’s been a lot of fun. There have been really enjoyable challenges, from going to Antigua and playing in the monsoon to coming and playing in Salt Lake in front of our home crowd. It’s been a really cool journey and one I’ll never forget.”
ussoccer.com: A new coach and new cycle brings different challenges. Now two years in, how would you say you have been impacted?
KB: “Going through this always teaches you a little bit about the competition we have in this region. This round has shown that the other countries in CONCACAF are getting stronger. For me, I just have more experience now than I did before.
ussoccer.com: Your roles with Real Salt Lake and the National Team are somewhat different. How do you deal with the transition of moving between different environments?
KB: “The biggest thing for me is the similarities that I’m going to bring to Salt Lake and here, and that’s going in every day and training or playing with the same intensity, the same energy, and really bringing it. No matter if you’re the captain, the biggest leader or a newcomer, it goes a long way. That’s what I try to do, especially coming in here. More than anything, it’s working hard and putting it in every day. When you come into the National Team, the quality of play is amazing, and that’s what makes it so much fun.
ussoccer.com: Jurgen always says that’s why you are a guy he wants to call in all the time, saying you bring it every day and are a ‘pure giver’. It’s been the case in the last two years that for as many times as you’ve played, you’ve also come in and not gotten time. How do you manage to continue to bring the same intensity, energy and attitude?
KB: “I’ve realized you can only control what you can control. For me, that means my effort and what I give every day. If I’m not playing, I’m not going to sit there and pout. I’m going to try and go to practice and make it tougher on the guys who are playing so when they get to the game it’s easier for them. If I’m playing, it’s to get ready to make the job of the guys around me easier. It’s not hard – it’s the National Team, and it’s an honor any time you get to be part of the squad. For my mindset, it’s just to be ready no matter what your role is. I want to be ready for whatever comes my way.”
ussoccer.com: That seems like an easy approach, but that also takes a mental strength not every player is able to maintain. Where does that mentality come from for you?
KB: “It comes from my parents and the way they raised me and my brother. Also, being involved in wrestling growing up and doing that and soccer side by side was huge. The discipline that came with wrestling is still something that has stayed with me.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve been known to break out a guitar or ukulele on some of these trips. What attracts you to playing music?
KB: “First off, I like music. I really enjoy listening to it. I look at it almost like a language. It’s cool the more you practice and the more you speak it, you become better and more comfortable. It’s a good hobby to have. It’s similar to golf for me where people play for a really long time and keep getting better and better.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve also been asked a lot if the World Cup is a like a carrot dangling in front of you. Doesn’t the answer seem obvious?
KB: “It does. I get asked ‘when do you think about the World Cup the most, and I say ‘when people ask me about it.’ With our sport, you always have to do the next thing. If you win one game, you have to be ready to win the next. If you get one call up, you have to try to get the next one. A lot of people who don’t follow soccer don’t understand you always have to prove yourself to get called in. You start to think that now the World Cup is getting closer since we’ve qualified, it’s right around the corner. But it’s still quite a long way away, so it’s something you stick in the back of your mind. It’s exciting when you think maybe I could be on that team, but there is so much work to be done still, and that’s what keeps me from thinking about it too much.”
ussoccer.com: Before we sat down, we were talking about World Cup preparation plans and you said ‘I have to get there first.’ Does the fact that you were in the mix last time around and didn’t make it keep you from looking too far ahead?
KB: “I guess it’s because I’ve never been this close to making it. For a while, the National Team was really done for me, and I didn’t think it was going to come back. When Jurgen came and it was a second chance, I wanted to run with it and really take advantage of the opportunity put in front of me. It’s the unknown, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself and say I’m going to be there, but at the same time I also want to have the possibility in the back of my mind. This is what we are all working so hard for.”
To my brothers,
When I left my career two years ago, the position I attained, the money, and essentially the pinnacle and culmination of all I had worked for throughout my adult life, I made that sacrifice because I had a vision of what this team could achieve together. I never thought that I would return to the game after college, much less join such a remarkable group of misfits so many years later.
During my first camp, before we qualified for Rio, coach and I sat down and discussed my goals. ”Rio” was all I could muster. Throughout the last couple years, we laughed together, we fought together, we cried together, we sweat together, we bled together, we lost together, and we won together. We did it together with one common goal: competing in the Paralympics.
I often reflect back on the grit and determination this team has displayed so many times over the years, like the time we clawed our way from behind in the final minutes to earn a 5-3 victory against the Footie Povoa host nation, Portugal, to secure a third-place finish ahead of some of the best countries in the world. I think about the skill and mental toughness in overcoming injuries and absences by winning the bronze medal at the 2014 America’s Cup.
I think back to when we took the pitch in the second half against Scotland at the 2015 World Championships trailing 1-0, and looking in every one of your eyes and seeing there was no quit and no way we were going to lose. We fought and we won. Shortly after, we experienced heartbreak after taking the number-four ranked Dutch squad to double overtime to make it to the semifinals. But we rebounded back in a must-win game with a crushing 4-1 victory against Argentina to stamp our passports to Rio. And of course the 4-3 come-from-behind victory again over Argentina in Spain earlier this year.
The U.S. PNT celebrates after punching its ticket to the 2016 Paralympic games with a 4-1 win vs. Argentina at the 2015 Cerebral Palsy Football World Championships.
What truly showed how far this team has come in such a short time was on full display in Rio by concluding our season with a 2-1 victory over Ireland, the same team we lost to 4-1 and 5-0 just months before! Simply incredible, gentlemen.
These few examples, and many others I did not mention, do not fully capture the spirit, mentality, and potential of this team. We accomplished something that men, women, and children all over the world can only dream of. We reached the greatest stage in our sport and we did so while displaying the qualities of what makes our country, and each and every one of you, so great. We represented our country and ourselves with honor, respect, courage, sacrifice, and strength.
I know we are all saying, “what if…” and “if this…”, but the fact of the matter is that we made waves on the international stage. We showed that we’re a dangerous team, a term that had never been used to describe our team until all of you gave everything of yourselves to earn that. Our time in Brazil is something we will all share forever and no one will ever be able to take that from you. What an incredible legacy.
Throughout this tournament, not only did we now show that we belong with the best in the world, but we set this program up for success in the future. Aspiring players around our country who watched each and every one of you and learned of your tremendously powerful and inspirational stories will come into this team for their trials knowing that they will have to work their asses off to join our ranks. The results will come with the foundation that we have laid.
There are no words to capture the pride and love I have for each of you, my brothers. No matter where our roads take us in the future, I want you to know that if you ever need me, I’ll be there, as I know you would do the same for me. Hold your heads up high, reflect on what we did, on who we are, and let’s get back to the grindstone.
Our coach and staff created a formula for success with this team, and we have not fully honored that yet. Coach [Stuart] Sharp has led by example in his dedication to all of us. He has transformed this program and this team, using each of us as his instruments.
I am motivated to get back to work, to put that crest over my chest, and take the pitch with you all again very soon. We have work to do. I love you all.
US National 7-a-side Football Striker / Co-CaptainRead more