The introduction paralleled the conclusion for DaMarcus Beasley. He discovered soccer as directly and as precisely as he played it.
One of the top players to ever feature for the United States Men’s National Team embraced the game like millions of others around the country.
At its root, this origin story is a familial tale. His father wanted DaMarcus and his brother, Jamar, to get out and run around. He had played basketball and football. He didn’t know a ton about soccer, but he liked that it was a team sport that his boys could play together. And so they joined up with Fort Wayne Sports Club.
There were no dreams about European nights or World Cup memories at the start. There were no fantasies about 126 caps or turning out for a list of prominent clubs spanning six different countries. DaMarcus was just a six-year-old kid who went out and played the game about a half an hour away from home.
Truth be told, this quiet start reflects how he steps away from the game now, too. The 37-year-old isn’t embarking on farewell tours or regaling in the tales of his accomplishments, though he does recount them willingly when he slows down long enough to share them. He is leaving the field much in the way he found it, even as the game in this country is substantially better for his presence on it.
The sentiment serves as the through line from his start in Fort Wayne through his conclusion in Houston. It is why he was caught off guard when he won the Silver Ball at the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, never thinking he might earn an individual honor as they were read out in the stadium. It is why he never fretted when others basked in the spotlight, even if he did participate in a particularly notable New York Times photo spread ahead of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Most fittingly, it explains why he appeared in matches at four FIFA World Cups (the only USMNT player to do so), lifted four Concacaf Gold Cup titles (each of them alongside Landon Donovan, the only other player to do so) and played a role for the Men’s National Team during 16 different calendar years, a period long enough to span former United States Men’s National Team head coach Bruce Arena’s first and second tenures in charge and exceed the scope of any other field player.
Beasley cared deeply about the finer points without allowing the overarching concerns to worry him too much. Coaches shifted him around the field to take advantage of his tactical acumen and his willingness to use his pace and his positional sense to frustrate the opposition. He buckled down and found a way to make himself a reliable name on the team sheet even as opponents scythed him down as he flew by them. He never threw up his hands and walked away.
“As a player, he was Gumby,” Arena said. “He was fearless. He couldn’t be broken. He threw himself into tackles. He could go up and down the field. Obviously, he had very good attacking qualities, but he was a terrific defensive player as well. I always said he could play any position on the field except center back. It’s not surprising to me that at the tail end of his career, he’s become a left back. He’s just a real intelligent player.”
His awareness and his intelligence surfaced when he moved from club to club and carved out his place every time. He lifted trophies in the Netherlands (PSV Eindhoven), Scotland (Rangers) and the United States (U.S. Open Cups with the Chicago Fire in 2000 and 2003 and with Houston Dynamo in 2018). He squeezed stints in the English Premier League (Manchester City), German Bundesliga (Hannover 96), and Liga MX (Puebla) into that prolonged career, too.
Former USMNT captain Carlos Bocanegra – a longtime teammate and Beasley’s first roommate during his rookie season in Chicago all those years ago – knows the difficulty of Beasley’s path after spending a decade playing in Europe. He credits Beasley’s mentality and his technical ability for paving the way forward.
“Those were some big environments,” Bocanegra said. “He was doing the business in the Champions League. That’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of competition for spots. He was able to keep his place and be a key factor on numerous teams. I think, nowadays, the Champions League, the Europa League, all of the big games in the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga are on TV now.
“Back in the day, he probably wasn’t getting as much air time as he would have now. He was one of the top players – and he’s had one of the best careers of any (American) outfield player – because he played in the Champions League, played for top clubs around the world. It speaks to his value. He did it all himself, grinding it out and forcing his way into teams. You’d expect nothing less from DaMarcus.”
Even with those exploits on his résumé, the most illuminating moments of his career – the reason why former U.S. teammate and fellow 2019 retiree Tim Howard recently told Yahoo! Sports Beasley ranked among the top five American players of all time – unfolded in red, white and blue.
“You know something that always stood out to me about Beas? You could count on him in every game,” Bocanegra said. “You knew what you were going to get. And that’s still true to this day.”
Beasley usually found himself in the middle of the biggest moments over the past decade and a half. He rarely commanded top billing and he sometimes drifted into the background, but his presence – the positive presence in the changing room, the reliability in a big game, the willingness to shoulder the responsibilities afforded to him and shrug off tackle after tackle – often told at the most opportune time.
Bocanegra also cites another quality – his ability to anticipate the next move – as an integral and sometimes overlooked component of Beasley’s success.
“I think people probably underestimate his soccer IQ,” Bocanegra said. “The guy was a smart player. He would see passes early. He would run into spaces early. He would also do a couple of clever things: playing short corners early, getting free kicks back in play early to give us a counter or give us an advantage when the other team was asleep. He had those instincts. He had that reaction. Those are things you just can’t teach. He was very aware of the game. That’s what made him such an important player. He had it all – and that’s why he was such an important X-factor to any team he played on.”
Those instincts led Beasley to make the decision to step away now, after a season where Arena said he thought the veteran still ranked among the top left backs in MLS. They also prompt introspection as this stage of his involvement in the game winds to a close.
“For me, I always wanted to be remembered as a person – and it can sound cliché and it can sound very simple, but I think it suits me – that I was willing to do whatever it took to win the game,” Beasley said. “Whatever the team needed, I was there to do, basically. I never complained if I thought I was playing out of position. Whatever it took for us to win the game. Whatever it took for me to do something different, something I wasn’t accustomed to doing, I did it.”
Now it is time for him to step away to do something else. Those qualities served him well for the past two decades. And now it is time to see where they carry him into the future.