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One more time: spinning the Kyle Beckerman-U.S. national team argument wheel. Yes, again.

Jul 16, 2013, 4:14 PM EDT

Canada v United States Getty Images

Kyle Beckerman is a holding midfielder. His job is to screen the defense, acting as a midfielder destroyer, using his wile to clog and dog passing the lanes, channeling his controlled tenacity into useful tackling and 50-50 ball winning. In possession, he is the first outlet for defenders, charged with moving the ball along in some sensible, orderly way to more attack-minded types.

Those are his unchanging orders around the national team.

Only, to listen to a faction of U.S. Soccer supporters, Beckerman should be scoring goals like Jozy Altidore or assisting like vintage Tab Ramos in addition to everything else. Or something close to it, even from a holding midfield position.

ESPN FC’s Jeff Carlisle said it best when he called Beckerman a polarizing figure. I’ll go a step further:

At the risk of being insulting, I have to wonder if fans who cannot see any value in the Real Salt Lake man just don’t like the way he looks (the dreads and all), or perhaps miss some basic understanding of the game? It’s OK if you don’t like Beckerman as a holding midfielder; I disagree, because I’ve seen him perform wonderfully for Real Salt Lake in that role for years. But you must recognize that he is a holding midfielder at least, a.k.a. a “defensive midfielder.”

I get the feeling that too many supporters cannot or will not acknowledge that teams need balance and roles.

I mean, could a football team function with a bunch of skilled position players and no men to do the blocking? Could a basketball team function without someone to go get rebounds? No. And most fans have a general understanding of that.

Most soccer fans will allow that a side needs defenders, whose role is generally “stop and distribute.” But they might fall short in recognizing that defending happens all over the field and in varying individual balances between “attack” and “defend.”

(MORE: Previewing tonight’s U.S.-Costa Rica Gold Cup contest)

Midfields also need balance, and that’s what a guy like Beckerman is all about. Show me a midfield with four attack-minded types and I’ll show you an All-Star team designed for “show,” or a league team that is going nowhere fast. No, the Real Salt Lake man is not a set-up specialist, although a couple of skillful assists lately have reminded us that Beckerman has that element in his game.

Teams require a certain amount of midfield steel, willing mudders who are happy to win the ball and move it along selflessly. Part and parcel is a willingness to retain the defensive shape, to steadfastly protect against counter attacks rather than impatiently springing forward (as Jermaine Jones, top man on the U.S. holding midfield depth chart, too frequently gets caught doing.)

After all, the reasonable approach to these matches as heavy favorites is to secure a fairly comfortable win; something along the lines of 3-0 or 4-1 does just fine, thank you very much. The silly approach is to go crashing forward in search of 6-0 or 7-0, the kind of romp-and-stomps that may satisfy one small segment of fandom but involves a bit of wholly unnecessary risk.


Is it best when screening midfielders can tackle like mad dogs and then pass like Xabi Alonso or Daniele De Rossi? Of course! But Alonso and De Rossi are two of the best in the world at what they do; there just aren’t many Alonsos and De Rossis out there.

What I’ve said before about Beckerman is this: he’s probably not the optimum choice for games that will require tons of attacking, where the holding man’s job is equal parts screening the defense and moving the ball forward with a little more of playmaker’s eye.

But in tough games, in the World Cup qualifiers played in those intimidating parts of the world? Give me a guy like Beckerman for those, even if his role is off the bench. He’s fearless and experienced, and that means so much in those testing environments.

And in the Gold Cup elimination matches ahead, give me the leader who knows his role and who isn’t afraid to step into the midfield tackle, to make that area a less comfortable place to be.

That’s Beckerman – whether or not you are the person who realizes it.

  1. Steve Davis - Jul 16, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    What a lot of people forget about is that in a lot of qualifying, as well as tournaments like the Gold Cup that we’re seeing now, you really need depth. Injuries, yellow card accumulation, etc. And as you point out, different approaches are needed for different games.

    Might we be better in a game against Honduras/Concacaf top flight on the road (where we’re going to have to defend) with The Becker Man sitting behind Bradley and letting him run the attack rather than having to pick his spots with Jones bombing forward from time to time? Of course. Do I think The Becker Man will be starting in Brazil at any point? Unlikely, but that’s mostly because of better options in front of him, not because he’s not valuable to the team. And just as Jason Kreis does in RSL, Klinsmann clearly values his leadership with the team in training, off the field, and on the field when he’s needed.

    My only standing complaint about Becker Man’s game is his tendency to look backward or laterally far too often for his first pass. There’s a place for that against some times (especially those pressuring us high) but at some point, you need to look upfield for an opening and create something. This was especially noticeable against an incredibly overmatched GUA team last week when the tempo changed incredibly when Holden and Mix got on the field. Essentially, that team was one that we just don’t need that sort of dedicated #6 for.

    Unrelatedly, his assist on Wondo’s goal against Cuba was terrific.

    Ps, yes, my name really is Steve Davis also.

    • teamperkins11 - Jul 16, 2013 at 4:46 PM

      That is my complaint as well. Beckerman does not get the ball moving forward enough. He is too quick to backpass. If teams are going to bunker in against the US then he has little value. Our possession stats will look incredible, but very little will be attacking. Against teams that attack he is a viable option if he will play the ball forward and at least get the ball to a Bradley, Mix, or Holden. However, even in this role he is second fiddle to Jones. Good to have on the bench though as we know Jones collects yellow cards frequently.

      • rhaaland - Jul 16, 2013 at 8:00 PM

        Concur to both. It’s not that half of his passes are lateral or negative, it’s that even when he has chances to go forward he holds for a count too long and THEN plays backwards. It’s more about the pace of his play than not being the second coming of Tab Ramos. Get the ball moving. Receive and play away. If you’re going to play the way you face and play simple balls every single time, at least do it quickly, and get the ball to someone who can/will create.

  2. pnierle - Jul 16, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    The complaint is that he isn’t often the first outlet for defenders. He doesn’t ask for the ball in his own half near enough. I don’t know anyone who thinks he should be scoring more goals or adding more assists, perhaps I’m not paying attention to the same complaints you are.

    He is similar to defensive midfielders of years past like Rico Clark and Pablo Mastroeni, though he lacks the range of either of those players.

  3. bigdinla - Jul 16, 2013 at 5:01 PM

    Thank You Mrs Beckerman.
    1rst off that was a ridiculously condescending article. We know what a holding MF is and Beckerman is a mediocre one at best. He has proven that anytime he has played against non-Concacaf opponents. He is behind Jones, Cameron, Holden, Edu and Williams as far as talent goes, but JK seems to line him. The USMNT has progressed to much IMO to keep using a player like Beckerman.

    • boscoesworld - Jul 16, 2013 at 6:22 PM

      And Diskerud!!

  4. ndnut - Jul 16, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    My complaint is that now I won’t know which Steve Davis is in the comment section. Please pick a user name! Hint: (Steven or Stevie or Steve-O would solve our problems)
    P.S. I don’t mean to come off as annoying, but it really would be helpful.

    • Steve Davis - Jul 17, 2013 at 1:26 PM

      Haha, yeah sorry about that, can’t be helped! I’l go with STEVE-O!!! IE, NOT NBC STEVE DAVIS. :)

  5. unclemosesgreen - Jul 16, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    When I argue loud long and often against Beckerman’s inclusion in the USMNT it has nothing to do with his performance with Real Salt Lake. He’s an excellent holding mid in MLS and a high-class individual to boot.

    It has everything to do with the fact that against higher-level competition he is a liability, as he has repeatedly shown the inability to adjust to world-class pace. What ends up happening all too often is that he is dispossessed while calmly holding deep in his own end when he should have moved the ball right away.

  6. tariencole - Jul 16, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    Should Kyle Beckerman be in the pool? Sure.Having a destroyer in the pool is of value through the qualification process. And his experience is valuable to the younger players in tournaments like this one. And I don’t disagree that in a match when you’re willing to play for a point and trot out 2 destroyers, he can play a role.

    Should he be in the top 23 for the World Cup next year? Doubtful.

    Why? His lack of pace is exposed the tougher the competition he faces. It forces him to stay closer and closer to the back 4, meaning there is a large gap between him and the linking MF, or you’re playing the king of all Empty Buckets.

    At this level, he’s fine. His experience, grit, and occasional deft touch are more than enough. But in Brazil, when he’s asked to slow down world class attacking midfielders? Not as much.

    Then there’s the question of who you’re willing to leave out in the 23 man roster for a guy whose value in top-tier competition is strictly situational. Which one of Bradley, Jones, Holden, Cameron, Torres, Williams, Diskerud, Corona, get dropped for Beckerman?

    Do I believe in a defensive MF? Absolutely. But Cameron plays that role (plus 3 others) well. Jones SHOULD be playing that role, if he can ever get his ego out of trying to be Roy Keane. Williams and Bradley both can play that role well. Though in Bradley’s case, it’s an obvious waste of his gifts going forward. So Beckerman, where I sit, is no better than fourth on the DMC depth chart. And are you going to bring 4 holding midfielders on a World Cup roster?

    I hope not.

  7. talgrath - Jul 16, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    There’s no particular problem with Beckerman, there are simply much more talented people ahead of him. Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley can both fill the holding midfielder role and do so much better than Beckerman. In a pinch, there are multiple, more talented midfielders and defenders that can fill in in that role too.

  8. overtherepermanently - Jul 16, 2013 at 11:05 PM

    I think the argument against Beckerman is that at this point in his career, his athletic ceiling is CONCACAF. I’m perfectly fine with him in the Gold Cup, but I think I’d rather Klinsmann experiment with making Jones be more disciplined come Brazil.

  9. mfmaxpower - Jul 16, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    I like Beckerman but he’s just not good enough against higher quality opposition.

    And the reason he gets criticized for not being better going forward is that he’s not exceptional enough as a pure destroyer to make up for offensive deficiencies.

    I’m fine fielding a true DMF but at the highest levels now, if you aren’t contributing moving the ball forward and creating as a midfielder, then you better not have any deficiencies in defense, like say pace and power.

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