After a year spent on the sideline due to an injury, Tony Beltran’s future became unclear as the offseason began and the storied defender pondered what was next. That future came into focus this week as he re-signed with Real Salt Lake, returning for his 12th season with the club.
Sustaining an injury in late 2017 that would cause most professionals to hang up their boots, Beltran remains with the club he has spent his entire professional career with, carrying with him a new perspective and love for the sport.
“Being in Herriman, watching the guys go out to practice while I’m in the training room, rehabbing in the gym, I wanted to be out there doing what I love,” Beltran reflected. “Everything felt so far away for so long and once I finally got back onto the field at the end of last year it was like discovering an old love. I felt like a kid being able to kick a ball with my friends again. It was pure joy in a way a child enjoys something.”
At 31, Beltran spent the entire 2018 season recovering and strengthening himself physically. But his greatest growth in his time away from the pitch was mentally.
“Over the past year I learned that I could claw my way out of any situation,” Beltran said. “The conversations I had with our team doctor indicated that it was maybe time to move on. But I wasn’t ready to give the game up. When I do step away from the game I want it to be on my terms. Despite the adversity, I wasn’t ready to give up. This club and this city mean too much to me.”
When an injury of Beltran’s magnitude occurs to a professional athlete, it’s easy for a player to be overcome with a sense of worthlessness or feel of no value to the team. Refusing to sit idly by, Beltran was determined to find an avenue to contribute to his club, building upon an already established foundation of positive influence in an effort to help the generations both before and after him succeed.
Tony’s influence on the club runs much deeper than his performance on the field as he carries with him a strong sense of pride by ensuring that the younger generation at RSL knows that he can be an influence to them both on and off the field.
“You forget very quickly what it is like to be young,” Beltran explained. “I was fortunate enough to have had influences when I was a young player and I want to afford them the same opportunity. It brings me great joy being able to interact with our young players. Being able to be a positive influence on them has given me a new perspective on the game and on life, especially in my time away.”
Beltran’s influence is evident among his teammates, with RSL’s 2018 Defender of the Year Brooks Lennon echoing what Tony’s guidance has meant to him in his transition to the club’s backline at such a young age.
“He’s helped me tremendously,” Lennon said of Beltran. “He’s such a great guy and an amazing teacher. He’s played that right back position for years and his guidance helped me so much. I can’t thank him enough for the leadership he provided me this last season.”
With paperwork settled and Beltran back healthy and in the famed number two shirt, all eyes are forward to the 2019 season. In 11 years at the club, Beltran now looks anxiously to walking out of the tunnel at Rio Tinto Stadium on game day.
“No matter what the circumstance, no matter the day or opponent, it’s a privilege to run out of the tunnel at Rio Tinto Stadium next to my teammates,” he said. “Next season is something I can’t wait for. I can’t wait to see the RSL fans at the end of the tunnel. That feeling is really what it means to play for this club and it encapsulates all the special moments I’ve experienced throughout my time with Real Salt Lake.”