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Boardroom Q&A: DaMarcus Beasley, Longtime USMNT Fullback

A World Cup veteran four times over, Beasley gives Boardroom his outlook for the US national team in Qatar and explains the keys for a deep run.

As the only US men’s soccer player to ever appear in four World Cups, DaMarcus Beasley is uniquely qualified to talk about competing in the world’s biggest sporting event from an American perspective.

Ahead of the US Men’s National Team‘s enormous match against England on Nov. 25, Boardroom spoke with the former LA Galaxy, Manchester City, PSV Eindhoven, Rangers, and Houston Dynamo fullback about what it’s like as a player in a FIFA World Cup, Major League Soccer‘s growth and progress, the players he’s watching out for on the current USMNT squad, and how the Americans can score a few upsets — starting with the Three Lions.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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SHLOMO SPRUNG: What’s it like being at and playing in the World Cup?

DaMARCUS BEASLEY: It’s a dream come true. Us as soccer players, when you grow up, you dream about playing in the World Cup. Sometimes being a professional and playing for a specific club could maybe be it. But the World Cup, there’s no other sporting event like it in the world. To be able to go to one and play, and to dream about it but then make it actually come true, it’s special. 

It’s not only special for the player, but for that person’s family, their friends. They get to experience it with them. And then hearing your national anthem when you’re walking out into the stadium, that’s a really special feeling to be able to do that. I don’t have a favorite World Cup from my experiences. We did well in some, other ones we didn’t do well in. But at the same time for me, the World Cup is a dream come true to be able to be a part of.

SS: As a player, you get to wherever the site is, you start training with the team, and you have to adjust to the language, climate, time zone. What are the biggest keys in having a successful World Cup as a player?

DB: For one, you have to be committed to the cause, to be honest. Because the World Cup is about the team, about what you’re representing. There can’t be any kind of chaos throughout the camp because you’re in it together. Workouts are a bit different than usual because it’s November, but usually you’re together for almost two months. So that camaraderie off the field is just as important as on the field. A lot of teams that eat dinner together, hang out together, do things off the field together throughout the camp. It’s a big plus and a big bonus for them to go forward in the World Cup.

SS: What are the biggest keys for you personally?

DB: It’s not rocket science. You have to score goals [laughs]. So having a player that can constantly score goals is a plus. If you look at the USA team, they’ve done well in their club situations, but in the national team we lack at that position. That’s something where [Gregg] Berhalter will look and say “how can I find my best 11 or best three up front where we can get the most out of it?” Having an attacking force in a World Cup, especially this one, will do well for a lot of teams if they want to try to go far in a tournament.

SS: Berhalter hasn’t been shy about putting MLS players on his team, whereas Jurgen Klinsmann had more reservations and was leaning on players who were with overseas clubs in Europe. What do you think about the MLS flavor Berhalter brought it?

DB: I think it’s amazing. Even if you look at the bigger picture, this year MLS has 36 players that are contributing from the league into this World Cup. That’s phenomenal. To be one of the leagues outside the top five to contribute the most players in the World Cup that’s only been here for 26 years, it’s an amazing accomplishment.

MLS is not a league that’s just about bringing players that are older than 35; it’s a league of choice. It’s a league that players want to come to. They know that if they play well here, they can go to a Champions League team if they’re a younger player and their dream is to get sold. There’s so many possibilities and bonuses for having a lot of MLS players in your squad. The US, if I’m not mistaken, has 18 of its 26 players that either played in the academy or had some tie with MLS. That’s great for our growth as a league, for soccer as a sport in this country. It’s just getting bigger every year.

SS: Obviously you played in MLS for a long time. Is this something you thought the league could pull off, having this many players in the World Cup and on the USMNT?

DB: Yeah, I think so. You look at the players being sold and bought, these are world-class players. For example, you look at Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United and how well he’s doing at Newcastle. They found him in South America and he played well, he won MVP and the championship with Atlanta, and now he’s playing in the Premier League. He’s arguably one of the best players in that league at the moment.

So, it’s not just about buying players with the league and where they are now; it’s about trying to find a good balance between buying, selling, and keeping some of our younger talent in America where we can have a good academy system or a development system so we can hopefully one day win a World Cup. Because that’s what this is all about.

SS: Who are some players on the US team you’re looking out for, whether obvious names or less obvious?

DB: I’ll start with the obvious. With Tyler Adams, I don’t know why it took so long for Gregg Berhalter to name him captain [laughs]. He’s a force, man. I really enjoy watching him play, the way he’s playing at Leeds now. You can’t take him off the field. I think [Leeds United manager] Jesse [Marsch] even said in an interview that they lost a bit of tenacity when he got a rest and wasn’t playing, so he’s a huge part of this team and another kid that came up through the New York Red Bulls academy system. He’s a guy that needs to be on the field. He’s a leader and only 23. I really enjoy watching him play. 

Another one of my favorites is Brenden Aaronson. He’s been my favorite for a while. I’m not just trying to pick two players that play in the Premier League, but he’s so versatile in how he plays. He can play through the middle, through the right, and you know what you’re going to get. He’s energetic. He’s going to chase, fight, and tackle. For him being so wiry, kind of like how I was in my career, a skinny guy, he pushes his weight around, so it’s fun watching him play. Those two are players that people can look out for.

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SS: Tactically, what does the US need to do to succeed?

DB: For one, they need to have a good start. After those first five, 10 minutes, the nerves kind of go away and you can settle down and actually play. They know how they want to play, either a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3. I think the midfield for us is key. Whoever Gregg Berhalter puts in there, if it’s Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Yunus Musah, midfield is key for us to be successful in the World Cup.

Another thing is with transitional defending. If we can get that part right, we want to be a team that can play from the back. We want to be a team that can control the games at times, but when we lose the ball in certain situations, how can we stop that player? When we get back and defend those plays, how can we put out those fires? That will be very important for the USMNT going forward. Hopefully, they can do that.

SS: What are the biggest keys to beating England on Nov. 25?

DB: It’s a tall task. England is one of the favorites to win the World Cup. They have world-class talent at every position. I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with them because they watch the Premier League on the weekends and they’re a very good team.

Once they get it right, they are very, very dangerous. Whether they play in a five, a bit more defensive and more reserved, or a four and more attack minded and get those players on the pitch all at once, they’re dangerous. For the U.S., the thing is they’re not going to be scared of them. They see them week in and week out. I really think with this young group that no-fear mentality is there, because they really don’t know what to expect and going into that game is going to give them fuel to go out and get three points. They’re not going to take England lightly, and I think they’re going to take it to them. It’s not going to be a game where the U.S. sits back and will just be respectful to England. I think they’re going to take it to England, they’re going to attack them, press them, and try to make it as uncomfortable as they can for their back four or five depending on if they get an early goal. You never know what can happen in a World Cup.

SS: Lastly, how far does this US team go?

DB: I see them getting out of the group. It’ll be difficult, but I see them getting out of a group and it just depends.

We all know when it comes to round 16, a lot of it depends on who you’re going to play. It could be Holland, Senegal; you never know with how things go. But if they get out and everything goes to plan, USA might get to second in the group stage and Holland gets [first in Group A], and Holland is a very deep, experienced, and talented team. This is my personal opinion.

If they get out of their group, I would be okay with that, but they need to get out of their group. If they don’t, it’ll be disappointing even though 25 out of the 26 players have never played in a World Cup before. I still hold them to a high standard, and I think they do themselves. if they don’t get out of this group, they’ll be disappointed in themselves. Anything can happen, but I’ll be okay if they get out of the group.

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