A lot of Real Salt Lake fans probably found themselves smiling when Jurgen Klinsmann announced that his January training camp roster would include RSL outside back Tony Beltran. This means that, as training camp gets underway in earnest today, Beltran will find himself donning the stars and stripes for the full national team for the first time (he previously played for the U.S. at several youth levels).
At this point he is probably a long shot to make the team that will play at Honduras in a World Cup Qualifier on Feb. 6, but this call definitely serves notice that Tony's hard work and success for RSL has not gone unnoticed. Reading between the lines, it also provides a bit of vindication for Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey, who thumbed their noses at conventional wisdom when they drafted Beltran back in 2008.
I remember that day well; I was watching the draft live from the RSL office in Trolley Corners with a handful of fans and staffers when RSL's first pick came around. With baited breath we all waited to hear what our new coach and new GM would do with their first draft pick ever. As Commissioner Garber said that with the third pick in the draft, Real Salt Lake select Tony Beltran from UCLA, a collective "who?" went up from the crowd. I had seen Tony play in person once before (at a U-20 World Cup game in Montreal), but I still had reservations. I wasn't the only one - soccer pundits around the country immediately opined that Beltran could have been had much lower in such a deep draft, maybe even with RSL's next pick at #14 overall, which RSL would end up using on David Horst.
Over the next few years, the wisdom of that selection became apparent as Beltran steadily increased his impact on RSL. As the "experts" began to see the genius of the choice, eventually the unconventional methods Kreis and Lagerwey use to evaluate draft picks came to light. For example, they conduct a sit-down interview with every potential draft pick on their radar - sometimes over 50 players. Kreis once told me that he was impressed by Beltran because he wore a suit to his interview. What their methods revealed is that the men in charge of RSL don't care just about a player having a certain set of soccer skills, but also what kind of person that player is. In hindsight, the selection of Beltran made such a splash around the league that today almost every MLS club also does sit-down interviews with potential draftees.
The odds are pretty good that we'll see Beltran get capped for the Nats in the near future. The January camp roster will take on Canada in a friendly match in Houston on Jan. 29, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tony takes the field in that game.
He has a bit more work to do to get in with the "A" national team - hence his being a long shot for the Feb. 6 match at Honduras - but he does have the benefit of playing outside back. That's been one of the U.S.'s weakest positions for quite some time, so Klinsmann is more likely to have an open mind toward changing things up and there's less of an established pecking order. Steve Cherundolo is one name you can probably pencil in at right back, but nobody else in the pool has really separated themselves from the rest. This means Beltran will go in with the opportunity to make his presence felt. After the U.S. roster was announced, he said "I go into camp as I do anything in life, ready to learn and work hard." And knowing what Salt Lake fans know about Tony, we can be certain he'll do both.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and will cover the team for ESPN700 AM.