“It’s not just me being there to be a mentor to players,” Beasley said of his motivation to return and try again. “I’m there to compete and to play every game. I am not there to make up numbers. This is not a vacation for me to go back to the national team. This is the real deal.”
Such a milestone once seemed unlikely. In 2014, Beasley announced his retirement from the national team, only to return briefly for the Americans’ dismal campaign in the 2015 Gold Cup. But when Jürgen Klinsmann was fired in November, and replaced by Beasley’s first national team manager, Arena, Beasley said he was eager to return and rewrite the ending of his national team career.
“When Bruce gave me a call and asked if I still wanted to be part of the team and have a different role, obviously, I took it with both hands and ran with it,” he said.
The common sentiment among the current roster is that Beasley is a great leader who brings skill, intangibles and experience. The more crucial perspective is that his latest return shows again how the team has repeatedly tried, and failed, to produce a player good enough to keep him out.
But that criticism overlooks something just as noteworthy as Beasley’s potential fifth World Cup: his successful, post-30th-birthday position switch from wing midfielder to left back. The move was crucial in prolonging a career that began when he signed with Major League Soccer in 1999, and it allowed him not only to make Klinsmann’s 2014 World Cup team, but also to start all four of the Americans’ games at the tournament.
“When you lose some of your speed, your soccer brain doesn’t go away,” United States midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “When he changed to left back, he still has the ability to figure it out, to know what’s going on, to read the game, and do the little things well.
“The mental strength he has to keep going on is great.”
Left back has historically been the United States team’s Achilles’ heel. Because of that, past managers have often opted to use players there out of position. But the left-footed Beasley has mastered the role since making the switch in 2013 (it was one of the main reasons Klinsmann took him to Brazil), and he has evolved into a reliable, if perhaps not everyday, option there.
Beasley shares the role on the national team with Jorge Villafaña, a player eight years his junior who plays his club soccer for Santos Laguna in Mexico. But in June, when Villafaña sustained a minor injury, Arena opted to start Beasley in a high-profile qualifier at Mexico, and despite his being battered by an elbow and beaten for Mexico’s goal, he nonetheless helped the Americans emerge with a 1-1 draw.
Beasley’s willingness to embrace an evolving role, one that even now regularly morphs from understudy to starter, explains his enduring nature.
“DaMarcus, from the first time I saw him, had a natural way of playing,” said Bob Bradley, who was Beasley’s first professional coach in M.L.S., and the one who took him to South Africa with the national team in 2010. “He moved so easily on the field. He had quickness, awareness and ideas of what was going on around him.
“Sometimes you have players who have that kind of speed and quickness at a young age, but the type of game awareness comes later. DaMarcus had those right away. He knew how to play.”
Beasley’s club career has not always been smooth. He has played for seven teams in six leagues, and at times he has struggled to earn minutes with the best of them. But he also has a résumé that is uncommon for an American player: a Scottish title with Rangers and Dutch ones with P.S.V. Eindhoven, for whom he became the first American to play in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League in 2005.
After stops in Germany and Mexico, he returned to M.L.S. in 2014, with a Houston Dynamo team that remains in the playoff hunt a year after a last-place finish.
Now, ahead of two crucial games, Beasley is trying yet again to make himself relevant, even indispensable.
“My motivation is to help the team win and to participate,” he said. “But we haven’t qualified yet. There is a ways to go, and I look at every game as my last.”