Throughout the Wasatch Front, Real Salt Lake fans rejoiced on Monday morning with the news that Kyle Beckerman would be returning for his 14th season with Real Salt Lake.
Perhaps nobody was happier about the news than four-year-old Evie Johnson.
Over the course of the last seven months, Evie has built a bond with RSL’s captain, so when she heard she would still be able to watch her “best friend Beckerman,” nothing could remove the beaming smile from her face.
“When she gets to come see her Beckerman, she loves it,” said Julie Johnson, Evie’s grandmother.
The Johnson family is a staple at Rio Tinto Stadium, with Mike and Julie and two of their children Sean and Rylee attending nearly every match rain or shine. They have been on the road with the team, too, planning family vacations around RSL road matches and even attending preseason in Hawaii with the team in 2019. Sean and Rylee also work with the RSL Foundation’s Special Olympics Unified Team as coaches.
So when Evie learned that she would need heart surgery last summer, the family knew they would need to do something special for her.
Heart surgery can be daunting for anyone, let alone a four-year-old girl. They knew that one thing that could give her the courage to undergo such a procedure would be a special message from her favorite player. So they brought Evie out to Real Salt Lake’s match against the Philadelphia Union on July 13. After a 4-0 victory over the Union, Beckerman hustled over to the Johnson family’s seats at Rio Tinto Stadium to wish Evie luck and provide some encouragement. A rugged and fierce competitor on the field, Beckerman always makes time for the fans when he can – especially children who look starry-eyed at their hero as he treats them as equals.
Two days later, she underwent an atrial septal defect closure and pulmonary artery repair.
The recovery wasn’t easy, but while she was in the hospital, she wore her Kyle Beckerman socks with her contagious smile. As soon as she was able, Evie returned to Rio Tinto Stadium to make sure Beckerman knew that she was ok.
On August 3, she returned and Beckerman again greeted her after the game – this time a 3-1 win over New York City FC. She has since visited Beckerman at training on several occasions, meeting him every time with the same eager smile.
On Monday, Mike, Julie, Sean and Rylee came out to RSL’s first training session of the 2020 season. When Evie heard, she insisted on accompanying them to training on Tuesday. So at Zions Bank Training Center’s indoor facility, Beckerman had a fan roaming the sidelines, pointing him out to her family.
“There’s my best friend Beckerman!” she’d squeal.
And after training, he found a spot on the turf and sat next to his little fan. They talked about how much she is growing, how her winter went and briefly about staying with Real Salt Lake another season.
After their brief, but meaningful chat, she slapped a high-five and started towards the door, practically skipping with that trademark smile – hot dogs and chicken nuggets awaited the hungry girl.
“She loves her Beckerman,” Julie Johnson said, mirroring the smile of KB5’s number one fan.