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ussoccer.com: The year 2000 was a pretty long time ago. You won your first trophy as a pro with Chicago Fire in that’s year’s U.S. Open Cup. Do you remember it well?
DaMarcus Beasley: Oh yeah. When I look back on my days as a young player and a young pro, of course I remember wanting to win trophies. But it was mostly just about playing. I was having fun playing. So to win something like the Open Cup at a young age, it was great and it was fun and I got a sense of how important it was to everyone at the club. To be a part of it was something I won’t forget. Now I’m older. I know how much it takes to get there, to win any kind of championship, so when I look back it seems even more special.
(A young DaMarcus Beasley during his days with the Chicago Fire, where he won two Open Cups)
You repeated the trick in the 2003 Open Cup. Did it feel like you guys were building a kind of Open Cup dynasty in Chicago?
DM: I wouldn’t say that. But we had a team – players, coaching staff, everyone – that just had a winning mentality. League games, Open Cup games, it didn’t matter really. We just went out there to win. We tried to win at all costs. It filtered through the club from the president all the way down to the players. They expected you to win. So I wouldn’t say a dynasty, but we wanted to win and get to Finals and come out with something.
Your coach then, Bob Bradley, is a vocal advocate for the Open Cup. Did the Fire’s competitiveness and success in the tournament come directly from him?
DM: Yeah. He preached from day one that we wanted to win both trophies available: MLS Cup and the Open Cup. We didn’t see the Open Cup as a chance to take time off or relax. We used it to compete and to be better. To go get something. And that’s the same way we do it here in Houston. We put a lot of emphasis on putting out a good group to win the Open Cup. That’s the way any team that wants to win it has to do it.
There’s a lot of connections in the current Open Cup final four to those old Fire teams: Jim Curtin’s in charge in Philadelphia, Chicago’s back and Bob Bradley is coaching your next opponent LAFC. What’s it like coming up against these old friends and teammates on the other side of the touchline now?
DM: My competitive nature is always there. I’m going to be out there trying to win and trying to do what I can to help my team get the win. But it’s always nice coming up against old teammates and coaches because you can catch up and have a chat after the game. You can catch up with them and what’s going on in their lives. But it doesn’t change the competitiveness. I’m the same level of competitive against an under-13 team as I am in an Open Cup Semifinal.
(With over 100 caps, DaMarcus Beasley is the only USMNT player to appear in four World Cups)
Do you see any similarities to the way Bob Bradley has set up his new LAFC side to those Fire teams back in the day?
DM: A million per cent. Yes. You see it in the way they fight. The way they play. The way they move and share the ball. They’re always looking for the easy pass. He [Bradley] always wanted you to make soccer as easy as you could. I definitely see his touch in how they [LAFC] play. They spread you out and it’s tough to get around them if they’re having a good day. It’s tough to break them down. Bob likes teams that possess the ball, but teams that possess it with intent.
Are you comfortable in the role of senior player now, a veteran who the younger ones look up to? Do they come to you for advice or counsel?
DM: I’m easy to talk to. Everyone around here knows that. They can all come and see me because I’m just one of the guys. I’m just trying to help the team win and be successful and try to win championships. At the end of the day, that’s what we all remember. You remember the fun times in the locker room and all the different jokes and things, but to win something together, you can never forget that. We’re pushing to do that. Hopefully at the end of the season we can lift up not just one, but two trophies. On Semifinal days and in Finals, my experience as a senior player can help the team, so I try to use that.
There seems to be a good chemistry in this Dynamo team in the 2018 Open Cup. Would you say this is a strong Cup team with a chance of lifting a trophy?
DM: Yes. We set out goals at the beginning of the season and this is one of them. For us, winning the Open Cup is our goal. It’s not about getting to the Semifinals. It’s not about doing one better than last year. It’s about winning. That’s what this is about. And I think we have the group to win. Soccer is a game to be played – sure, some people might say LAFC is stronger than we are. Individually, they have very good players. But none of that means anything. You still have to play the game. And on any given day, anybody can beat anybody in this sport. It’s one game, the winner moves on, and there’s nothing to hold back. There’s no three points. No draws. We need to give it our all on Wednesday to win. We have to put everything on the line and take risks. That’s what soccer’s all about.
(Now 36, DaMarcus Beasley has no intention of hanging up his boots any time soon)
What’s the special sauce that makes a strong Cup team? Is it luck, mentality, momentum, playing at home? All of the above?
DM: It’s a little bit of all of that. For me, though, I think you make your own luck with the things you do on the field and how you respect the game. But good momentum, having guys that are fit, these are important. Having a strong camaraderie in the team is too. All of that goes together to make a good product on the field. I think we have that and hopefully we can put it all together and win something. At the end of the day, that’s all people will remember. We’ll remember we were champions. You hope the guys that haven’t felt that yet can experience it and hold it with them and use it as motivation in five or ten years and pass it on. They’ll know what it really takes to be a wining team. Because at the end of the year, with the preseason and all the hard work and all the nonsense that goes on, and the ups and downs, to end the season with a Cup is pretty special. I’ve done it quite a few times with different teams, but you never lose that feeling of winning. It stays with you.
A lot of your playing years were spent overseas, where you also won Cups. The Dutch Cup in 2005, where you scored in the last second of a Semifinal to see off Feyenoord and reach the Final with PSV. You played in the FA Cup, won two Scottish Cups, and even played in the Copa MX. Is there a special energy to Cup play, to those live-or-die games?
DM: Cups are different. It’s one game. There’s no tomorrow if you lose. The league is its own thing because you can lose and then go and get three points and get yourself back on track. In the Cups you get a little bit more intensity. It’s just that one game. You lose and you’re out. That, in itself, makes Cup games interesting, fun and hard. But that’s what makes soccer great. Open Cup is the same and so far we’ve approached it the right way in Houston and that’s why we’re here in the Semifinal.
Is there a special energy to the later rounds of the Open Cup, where it’s more serious business than trying to keep from someone springing an upset on you? What’s different about a Semifinal than those early rounds?
DM: For me, nothing’s different. It’s still the same – you just need to win. You might play a team that’s in a lower division than you are, but it’s a game you need to play. It doesn’t matter about what gets said or what gets written about who’s stronger or weaker. None of that stuff really matters in soccer. You still have to go out and play that game.
(From an Under-17 World Cup in 1999 to today, Beasley's career spans two decades)
You’re up against a tough opponent in LAFC – with a lot of attacking weapons. How do you approach a team like that?
DM: Defensively we have to be very organized. We have to talk and communicate and make sure everyone knows their job and does their job. It’s not just defenders; it’s everyone. Defending always starts up top. How we press and how we move as a team will be important. Are we pressing in the right spots? Are we making it hard for their top players? We need to make that day difficult for them. When you play a team that likes to possess and has a lot of attacking options, you have to play as a team. You have to defend as a team and attack as a team. If we do, we have a shot to go to the Final. LAFC won’t be intimidated coming to Houston. We played them here not long ago. And they ran us off the park in the first half [it ended 2-2]. We didn’t touch the ball. We learned from that game and hopefully you’ll see an improved Dynamo team this time.
You’ve had staying power as a player and you’re still on the field while so many from your generation have hung up their boots. When you were a teenager winning Open Cups in Chicago, did you ever think you’d still be at it when you’re 36?
DM: To be honest, no. You dream about playing a sport as long you can. When you’re a kid, you just play. When I was 16 and 17, I was just playing. I wasn’t thinking about where I’d be in 20 years. When you’re young, you don’t think about that stuff and I think that’s what makes young players so exciting. They just play.
Just from talking for a while, it’s clear you still have that competitive spark…
DM: I’m still playing because I still have that drive. It’s in my nature. My body feels good and I feel fit and there’s a team out there that wants me. At the end of the day, you need that too. If that happens, I’m going to play. If I feel I can still contribute and be good, I’ll play. I still wake up and I’m excited to train every day. I haven’t gotten that feeling that soccer’s a job yet. You hear a lot of older guys talking about that, about how at the end of a career, soccer’s like a job – getting up in the morning, the grind, traveling, being away from your family. But I still feel good. I won’t be one of those players who people say ‘he should have retired five years ago’. When I’m done, I’ll be done. I won’t hang around, so when I feel that feeling like it’s a job, I’ll stop. Simple.
(Beasley's club career took him to England, Holland, Germany, Scotland & Mexico)
What’s the secret to that kind of longevity in the game?
DM: You pick things up from the veterans you’ve known along the way. Around the age of 29, I started asking guys questions. How are you able to play this long? What do you do? What do you eat? I asked them all the questions I could think of. When you’re 16 or 17 you just see what they do and you’re ready to learn lessons. You don’t need to ask when you’re that young. You see them coming and doing the right things. You see them being on time and taking care of their bodies. They go to the gym after training. You see those little things and it becomes a part of your routine. For me, I try to take care of my body. I try to eat right and do the right things to make sure I’m fit and ready to play because here, in Houston, it’s hot. I’m sweating just sitting out here doing this interview [laughs].
And a season in MLS is pretty long…
DM: It is a long season. Preseason starts at the end of January and if you make it all the way, you’re through to December. That’s a long season right there. When you get older, you can’t just roll out of bed and throw on your cleats and hit the field [laughs]. You can’t do that when you’re 36. At least I can’t and I don’t know many who can.
Do you still love the game like you did back when? Do you get the same charge?
DM: One hundred percent. I still get butterflies when a game’s about to start, when I hear the National Anthem. I still feel those nerves and that’s when I know I still love the game. I know I still want to play. I know I still have that fire and that desire to keep playing and to keep winning. I really hate losing – anyone I’ve ever played with can tell you this [laughs]. Even in training sessions, I just can’t stand it. I’m in a bad mood all day if I lose. I can’t take a joke after I lose. I don’t want to talk to anybody. I’m pissed and that’s it. I’ve had that mentality with me since I was young. It hasn’t gone anywhere. Those little things tell me I still have the passion and the desire.
(The oldest player in the Houston Dynamo team, Beasley is always open to chat with the young guns coming up)
In a career that’s taken you to four World Cups, to England and Holland, Mexico and the Champions League, is it possible to pick out a highlight? Is your mind drawn to one moment, one success or defeat, above all others?
DM: I haven’t really thought about that, to be honest. I’m sure when I stop playing, things will come into my mind. But now I’m concentrating on the Dynamo, on trying to win a championship here and help the club get back to where it was in 2006 and 2007 when they were winning MLS titles [two in a row]. I’m about looking ahead and making new memories. The ultimate thing is to win. You remember winning. If we can win a championship or an Open Cup, we’ll know we did something right.