Before joining his friends after school, Kyle Beckerman would leave notes for his working parents on the stairs of their Anne Arundel County home.
“Hey, out playing soccer. Be home later.”
He would then sign his full name, as if he were honoring an autograph request, and add “USA #15.”
In case his parents, both public school teachers, had forgotten, Beckerman provided constant reminders of his towering goals.
“People would ask me what I wanted to do,” he said at U.S. training camp last week. “I would say I want to be a professional soccer player, and before MLS, that meant playing for the national team.”
Almost 20 years have passed, and only the uniform number was not realized.
Though he took a slower path than his contemporaries, Beckerman, 32, began earning regular call-ups from Juergen Klinsmann last year and is almost certain to join the U.S. World Cup delegation in Brazil next month.
For years, Beckerman was lodged in a group typically summoned when the regulars were unavailable or unnecessary. The lowdown: Top-class MLS player who held up well against regional opponents but was ill-equipped for the rigors of major competition.
Under Klinsmann, however, his stock has soared with a mix of tenacity, vision and intelligence from his defensive midfield post.
Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones are atop the depth chart, and Maurice Edu is in the mix at training camp, but there is a growing sense in U.S. circles that Klinsmann would not hesitate to pair Beckerman with Bradley.
Beckerman’s presence would free Bradley, the U.S. team’s most important player, to press forward. And with Jones susceptible to yellow cards, the Maryland native is at the ready.
“I’m full of admiration,” Klinsmann said, “because you can’t find a better pro.”
Beckerman has been a pro since he was 18. After two seasons with the defunct Miami Fusion and 51 / 2 with the Colorado Rapids, he arrived at Real Salt Lake in the summer of 2007. A year later, he was appointed captain. The following season, RSL won MLS Cup. He has been named to the all-star team five consecutive years.
“I’ve never come across a competitor like Kyle,” said Real Salt Lake Coach Jeff Cassar, Beckerman’s teammate in Miami and RSL’s assistant coach for seven years before gaining promotion this season.
“There is a spirit and a hunger about him.”
Beckerman also expresses his spirit in his hairstyle — thick brown dreadlocks that have taken shape over 10 years. “I would see the dreads around Maryland and always liked them,” he said. “Lucky or unlucky, I don’t know which one, I was able to make it work.”
The hunger was fueled, in part, by wrestling.
He and older brother Todd would grapple at home in Crofton — “every part of the house,” Todd said — and in local leagues. Todd, also a youth soccer player, was The Washington Post’s All-Met Wrestler of the Year in 1996 after completing his DeMatha High career with a 208-1 record. He went on to become a two-time all-American at Nebraska, and after serving as a Maryland assistant for eight years, he accepted Brown’s head coaching job last summer.
“I would win every once in a while,” Kyle said of their battles, “but once he got to high school, it was over.”
Kyle stuck with wrestling through his freshman year at DeMatha, but soccer was his calling. Once, while competing in an all-day youth wrestling tournament, he skipped out on the semifinals to attend an Olympic Development Program soccer tryout.
Nonetheless, wrestling’s tenets have endured.
“In wrestling, you have to be mentally tough,” he said. “You find something inside to push a little harder, push a little longer, whatever you have to do. You learn at a young age that, when you are tired and your opponent is tired, you’ve got to have the discipline and toughness to go on. It applies to soccer.”
Said his brother: “I see his wrestling mentality on the field, running end to end and fighting for everything. He never stops.”
Beckerman played club soccer for the Bowie Bulldogs and Laurel Wildcats. He attended 1994 World Cup games and U.S. friendlies in Washington. In 1993, he was at RFK Stadium when Klinsmann scored twice in the second half as Germany rallied from a three-goal deficit to tie Brazil, 3-3, in the U.S. Cup tournament.
After a year at DeMatha, he played for Arundel High for two years, then gained acceptance to the U.S. under-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla. The U-17 World Cup squad also featured Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu. The Americans enjoyed the finest performance in team history, advancing to the semifinals in New Zealand.
Three years later, Donovan and Beasley were starring on the senior World Cup team in South Korea. Onyewu (Olney) followed suit in 2006, the first of his two World Cups. Beckerman would have to wait two additional cycles.
He boosted his chances last summer during the Gold Cup championship run and, with Bradley injured, started in the 2-0 victory over Mexico last fall that clinched a World Cup berth.
“I always wished it happened a little earlier, but it just happened the way it did,” he said. “I told myself to stay ready. At times, I didn’t think about it. It wasn’t realistic. I didn’t have a chance. So when Juergen started calling me in, I felt this is an opportunity I can’t let slip.”