Martin Mejia, Associated Press
SALVADOR, Brazil — The way Kyle Beckerman is playing here, you wouldn't have guessed this was his first World Cup.
Beckerman has become one of the United States' mainstays and success stories as the team prepares for its Tuesday confrontation with Belgium in the Round of 16.
The Real Salt Lake midfielder and captain certainly has not been intimidated by the opposition. He hasn't thought twice about tackling the likes of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo or Germany's Thomas Muller, reminding them how difficult it can be to traverse the Americans' midfield at times.
Beckerman and Jermaine Jones have formed a solid working relationship with their fearless and physical presence as the two holding midfielders, limiting opponents' chances before entering the penalty area. Those two sit in front of the back four and are positioned behind three midfielders and striker Clint Dempsey.
“Kyle has been fantastic this World Cup," center back Omar Gonzalez said. "He has been working really hard. He is a guy that is always willing to go the extra step to get a good tackle in. He has been crucial for us, because he is sitting there in front of us, protecting us and stopping those entry passes that can sometimes hurt you. For a guy who can really read the game and is a very good player, he has been really crucial for us.”
That certainly isn't news to left back DaMarcus Beasley, who has known and played with the 32-year-old Beckerman since they were 14. They were on the USA team that finished fourth at the Under-17 World Cup in New Zealand in 1999.
"He’s doing very well," said Beasley, who set an American record by playing in his fourth World Cup. "He’s supporting our back four, keeping the ball moving."
And Beckerman knows how to keep the team's spirits high off the pitch, whether it is during training at Sao Paulo FC or at the team hotel.
"He knows how to get the boys going," Beasley said. "He leads by example off the field as well. We feed off of that and his positivity from his body language and all that goes into account. Even if we’re just talking or having lunch, just having his presence there is a good thing to have.”
The USA surprised the pundits by surviving Group G — aka the "group of death" — by finishing second to Germany while leaving Portugal and Ghana packing for home.
"It's huge," Beckerman said of the team's accomplishment, adding that getting out of the opening round was "something we knew was going to be extremely tough, but we believed in it. We felt there was a chance. Everybody has to play the same game and if that's the case we have a chance and we did enough to advance and now you can start to dream. Hopefully we can make some upsets."
The first upset would be against Belgium, the USA's opponent at Arena Fonte Nova.
The Belgians, who secured the Group H title with a 3-0 record, outscored their foes 4-1. They allowed only one goal, a penalty kick in their opening match, so they haven't surrendered a goal in 245 minutes. Their defense, however, enters the game battered as two starters are questionable. That includes captain and center back Vincent Kompany, who missed the 1-0 win over South Korea with a groin injury.
Regardless of who plays, Beckerman realizes the USA will be in for a difficult encounter.
"It's a really good team, got a ton of great players that play all over the world at some big clubs," he said. "It's going to take an extremely huge effort from us. We're going to have to score (on) our chances and defend with everything we got."
RSL has returned from its World Cup break and resumed Major League Soccer action, but Beckerman doesn't want to return to Salt Lake City — not just yet.
"It's a game that two teams got to go out and play," he said. "So we feel like we got a chance and with the chance, we're going to give everything."
That shouldn't be a problem for Beckerman. He does that every game.
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