With Saturday’s Gold Cup Quarterfinal set for Baltimore, three U.S. MNT players have made a homecoming of sorts to the “Free State” this week.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman grew up just down the road from Baltimore in Crofton, playing club soccer for the Bowie Bulldogs and the Laurel Wildcats before attending U.S. U-17 Residency in Bradenton, Florida, in 1999. Beckerman began what has turned into a 15-year professional career with the Miami Fusion the following year.
Beckerman has played with the National Team at M&T Bank Stadium once before, back in the team’s 5-1 win against El Salvador in the 2013 Gold Cup Quarterfinal. While he visits nearby Washington, D.C. often in Major League Soccer, playing for the National Team in his hometown is even more special.
“It’s great,” Beckerman told reporters Thursday. “To play with the National Team in Maryland is just awesome. The fans show great support here. I think we had close to 70,000 the last time we played here - hopefully we can get that again. I know I have a great crew coming through and we just have to do our part. They’re going to do their’s. It all comes together and makes it a great day.”
Inspired by seeing the National Team come through Baltimore and Washington, D.C. as a youth, Beckerman set his sights on suiting up for the side one day. As the MNT returns to Baltimore on Saturday, he knows he and his teammates can be that same inspiration.
“There are going to be kids in the stadium this weekend that are thinking the same way I did when I was young,” Beckerman told ussoccer.com. “When the U.S. National Team came in town, I’d go watch the game and they were my heroes. That’s where it all started from, getting the idea of what a professional player was and seeing the highest level that we had at the time. It’s a responsibility that we have to represent our country and our soccer team to the highest level. It took a lot of hard work but these kinds of games start dreams for kids at a really young age, so it’s cool to be a part of it."
Meanwhile, defender Omar Gonzalez and midfielder Graham Zusi were collegiate teammates from 2006-2008 at the University of Maryland in College Park, about an hour away from Baltimore.
Gonzalez returned to his hometown of Dallas when the U.S. met Honduras in their opening match of the Gold Cup, but didn’t get to play in the 2-1 win. With John Brooks suspended for Saturday’s Quarterfinal against Cuba, the 6’5” defender could get his shot to play in another familiar place.
“Maryland is a second home for me,” he told ussoccer.com. “I have a lot of great memories here. Winning the 2008 National Championship is probably tops. More than anything, you look at the players I played with here and a lot of them are in MLS – Graham, Maurice Edu, A.J. DeLaGarza – it speaks to how strong a program they have here.”
Upon arrival in Baltimore earlier this week, Gonzalez even contemplated a quick trip to visit some friends in College Park, but the team’s tight schedule nixed the plans.“I’ll have plenty of friends coming to see me for the game on Saturday,” he continued. “It’s special to get to play for the National Team in front of people you know and in a place that helped you get there. The fans leave you with a special feeling.”