By Simon Evans
FORT LAUDERDALE (Reuters) - With long dreadlocks, Kyle Beckerman has always stood out in Major League Soccer (MLS) but now his cultured midfield play is gaining belated recognition with the U.S. national team.
Beckerman, who plays in MLS for Real Salt Lake, has been selected as an All-Star for the past three seasons and was key to his club's 2009 championship - but his appearances for the U.S. national team were surprisingly limited under previous coach Bob Bradley.
The midfielder made his debut in 2007 but featured in just 10 games under Bradley and was not selected to last year's World Cup squad -- a disappointment for the Maryland native but not one that was unexpected.
"I kind of knew, so I didn't raise my hopes," Beckerman, who has never played in a World Cup, told Reuters. "For a while I thought that the door was closed with the national team and so what can you do? You just focus on your club."
Salt Lake have played the brightest brand of modern soccer in MLS and Beckerman, playing as a deep lying midfielder, breaking up opposition attacks and initiating possession play with intelligent passing, has been the key to their style.
An MLS club career looked all that was left for the 29-year-old but then Bradley was replaced with German Juergen Klinsmann and Beckerman was back in the national team set-up.
Klinsmann may not have had a formal position in soccer in the U.S. during his time living in the country over the past 13 years, but he has certainly been keeping a close eye on the domestic scene and has long appreciated Beckerman's abilities.
"Every coach has his own view of things and I have known Kyle since he has been playing in MLS and I have always followed him and always liked his style of play because he is a one thousand percent team player," said Klinsmann.
While Beckerman's image suggests a creative and independently-minded player, he is as much, if not more, of a destroyer than a playmaker and is certainly not afraid to play hard - qualities that have appealed to Klinsmann.
"He has a tremendous talent to read the game in advance, he kind of smells where the ball will go and he can anticipate and move into that space and when he is there and faces people one-on-one, he is very straightforward in those challenges - he is fair but he is also physical," said Klinsmann.
"He is a player that gets the job done and that is what I want to see from him and why I have called him into this group again."
Beckerman, who as a youth saw Klinsmann score twice against Brazil in Washington in a pre-World Cup tournament in 1993, is not surprisingly enjoying his second chance to be an international and says the German has made training and preparation enjoyable.
"It is. Not a lot of guys are used to double (training) days but he makes them fun, he doesn't drag it on. And it has been a lot of fun and very professional. I think we are all really confident in what we are doing and that is going to pay off eventually," he said.
If the new approach does work, the U.S. will be in Brazil for the World Cup in 2014 and Beckerman has not given up hope that he might yet make it to the biggest tournament of all.
"It was a dream that died and all of sudden it is back," he says.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)