It took Real Salt Lake rookie Tony Beltran just one day to earn the respect of his new teammates. On the opening day of training camp last Sunday, Beltran won the inaugural "beep test" of 2008, a brutal fitness drill in which players run back and forth in 20-yard intervals beginning with a light jog and accelerating to a full-on sprint in approximately 10 minutes.
Beltran edged runner-up Chris Wingert to claim the title of preseason beep-test champion, an easy feat once coach Jason Kreis promised 100 bucks to the winner with only two gassed players remaining.
"That was a very nice way to establish myself," said Beltran, who Real Salt Lake selected with the No. 3 overall selection in last month's MLS SuperDraft.
Anyone who knows Beltran and RSL's coaching staff counts itself among them after doing plenty of research prior to the draft shouldn't be surprised with his scintillating debut.
Beltran's beep test exploits is what ultimately propelled him into being an integral part of last summer's highly-successful U.S. Under-20 National Team at the FIFA World Youth Championships in Canada. On the eve of several upcoming qualification matches, Beltran was among the last few players cut from the squad. The bad news came after 10 days of training camp, and winning the initial beep test.
To Beltran's credit he didn't let his disappointment get the better of him.
"Out of everyone who was cut, I was the only one who stayed and did the fitness test the next day. All the players who were cut opted to take an early flight home because they were pissed off," said Beltran. "I ended up winning the beep test again, and coach said if anyone gets hurt or can't come then I would be the alternate."
As luck would have it, Michael Bradley's Dutch club wouldn't release him for qualifying so Beltran was added to the team. He ended up starting all three qualifying matches, and later that summer started every match in helping the United States advance to the quarterfinals of the World Youth Championships.
"At the end of that tournament I was playing the best soccer I've ever played in my life," said Beltran.
That dedication throughout the entire U-20 process is exactly why RSL jumped at the chance to grab the right back in the draft. Since taking over as coach early last season Kreis has gradually surrounded himself with young, hard-working players, and he believes Beltran is another piece to the puzzle.
"This is all about the team. Real Salt Lake is now all about the team. We're going to develop all-stars, we're going to try and develop very good players in this league by having a successful team, not doing it the other way around," said Kreis. "The other way around is to bring in a bunch of all-stars, and bring in a bunch of personalities and try and make a team out of them."
Beltran, a Southern California native, appears to fit that mentality perfectly. He's a humble 20-year old who addresses people as sir and ma'am. He's a player who didn't want to be drafted by the L.A. Galaxy or Chivas USA, "because I wanted to get away from the comforts of home and truly make the step to become a professional."
He says he's looking forward to establishing his life in Salt Lake City, snow and all.
"I've never really lived in a snow storm like (Monday), but it was great," said Beltran.
Above all, he's prepared to do whatever it takes to succeed at this level, and the next. Beltran knows he can't just rely on his fitness, that's why he's excited about working on his technical ability during the next eight weeks of training camp leading up to opening day on March 29.
"Yeah Real Salt Lake did struggle last year, but this is a good opportunity to come in and work hard and help the players who were here last year get better, and maybe challenge for a starting spot," said Beltran.Ironically enough, the player he'll be challenging for that starting nod at right back is Wingert, the player he edged in the initial beep test.
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