As part of a new weekly series on MLSsoccer.com, senior writer Jeff Bradley spends 10 minutes with some of the biggest names in North American soccer to talk about how they’ve made their mark on the game through the years.
His subject this week, Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman, is something of an MLS pioneer, thanks to his role as one of the first teenagers to forego college to sign with the league in 2000. For his first couple of seasons, the Maryland native struggled to get on the field and saw the team that drafted him, the Miami Fusion FC, contracted from the league.
Thirteen years later, Beckerman is a fixture in the midfield for RSL, a frequent contributor to the US national team and one of America’s most recognizable soccer players.
BRADLEY: What’s it been like to grow up in MLS? You were one of the league’s first teen signings.
BECKERMAN: It’s been a great ride. It’s been lot of fun to see the league grow from nothing into what it is today, and also to think of what it can be in the future. I only think MLS is going to get stronger. I consider it an honor to have been a part of that growth.
BRADLEY: Was it scary at all, to sign as a kid to play in such a new league?
BECKERMAN: Maybe a little, but not a lot. I just think it was just an ambitious thing for me and a lot of players, to try and be a part of this league at that age. I trusted that the league was going to be around for a long time and I didn’t want to be a part of that as quickly as possible. I was forced to grow up quickly and it was eye-opening at times, but I have no regrets.
You’ve got to grow up quick. It was eye opening and I learned a lot, about what to do and what not to do. I think you can learn by watching other people’s mistakes. But a lot of the older guys looked after me back then, to make sure I was doing the right things. They took care of me and pushed me in the right direction.
BRADLEY: What was the toughest part of being one of the original kid signings?
BECKERMAN: I had to learn right away it’s a tough league to get into the starting lineup. Some coaches don’t want to play young players, and that was the case for me. We had a great team in Miami with Carlos Llamosa, Pablo Mastroeni, Ian Bishop, Preki, Chris Henderson. I was able to learn so much just by taking things in every day. To this day, I really try to be a sponge. There are always things you can learn by watching players who were good.
There were frustrating days and frustrating weeks, but I always thought things would work out. It was about my fourth year when I really started getting some playing time and the coach really started relying on me. That’s when I felt I’d earned my place in the pro game.
BRADLEY: That was in Colorado, and then you got traded. Were you shocked?
BECKERMAN: Yeah, that was really surprising. I thought I’d be in Colorado for my whole career and never thought of going anywhere else. And all of the sudden I was headed to Salt Lake, Colorado’s biggest rival. At first, it really wasn’t something I wanted, Real Salt Lake were the worst team in the league at the time, but it’s all worked out.
BRADLEY: You’ve helped Real Salt Lake go from worst to first, winning the MLS Cup in 2009. How does it feel to have been a part of such a huge turnaround?
BECKERMAN: The fans were there from Day One. We had a really good foundation. Even when the team wasn’t doing well, playing in somebody else’s stadium, on turf, they still showed up. Things got better as the team improved and we got our own place to play. It was like the fans were rewarded for their loyalty, and the guys on the field, we felt like we owed them something.
Our coach Jason Kreis and his staff have done a great job of building something that players really want to buy into. We play a good style of soccer and any new players that are brought in are anxious to buy into the system. It’s been fun to be a part of it.
BRADLEY: How does it feel to be right on the cusp of making a World Cup team?
BECKERMAN: It’s exciting to be a part of it. I mean, it’s close by but it’s still far away. I’m just taking it one game and one practice at a time. If I keep being a part of it, that’s great. Hopefully at the end of it, the call comes.
BRADLEY: Okay, explain the hair. Exactly what inspired you to grow dreadlocks?
BECKERMAN: I just always liked dreadlocks. I don’t know if I’m lucky or unlucky, but I’ve got this curly hair. When I was growing up, if I didn’t comb it, it would just start to knot up. My mom would make me cut it off when it got all knotted. But eventually, when I moved out and didn’t live at home, I let it grow.
It’s been about eight years since I had my last haircut. The main thing is don’t comb them and they knot up. You have to wash them, but you don’t cut it.
BRADLEY: Are you a fan of Reggae music?
BECKERMAN: Yeah, I’m a fan of all music, but I definitely love Reggae. I guess that played a part in my decision to grow dreadlocks, but more than anything, I just liked the look.
BRADLEY: When you first started playing in Major League Soccer you were in a band, right?
BECKERMAN: Pablo Mastroeni, Tim Sahaydak and I dabbled a little bit as a band, back when we were playing for the old Miami Fusion. Nothing serious, but it was a good time. I play guitar.
BRADLEY: What kind of music did you play?
BECKERMAN: How would I describe it? Just some guys getting together and having some fun.
BRADLEY: Remember the names of any of your songs?
BECKERMAN: No, I really have no idea (laughs).
BRADLEY: Do you still play the guitar?
BECKERMAN: Yeah, it’s one of my favorite things to do in my spare time away from the field. Play the guitar, hang out with my fiancee and friends, and I love fly-fishing, which is great in Utah.
BRADLEY: Does you mom still want you to cut your hair?
BECKERMAN: No, she’s cool with it now. After eight years, I guess she’s used to it.