DaMarcus Beasley goes from ignored to a US leader

IRENE, South Africa (AP) — Not long ago, DaMarcus Beasley figured he'd be home in Miami by right now.

He was dropped from the U.S. national team last June after a big mistake led to a goal by Brazil in the Confederations Cup. Then he was benched by Glasgow Rangers for much of the just-completed season.

At 28, an age when many soccer players are in their prime, he thought his international career might be over.

But Bob Bradley gave him another chance, and Beasley responded with a strong training camp last month. The result — he's getting ready for his third World Cup.

"I had a tough year last year," he said Wednesday as roosters crowed and cows mooed outside the interview tent on the farm adjacent to the U.S. team's hotel. "I never thought I would be able to be this position."

His youthful accomplishments were impeccable.

A high school All-America at South Side High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., he won the Silver Ball for the United States at the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Championship, when Landon Donovan won the Golden Ball. Originally assigned to the Galaxy by Major League Soccer, he was dealt to Chicago and made his Fire debut in 2000.

Just 18 when he made his first national team appearance against China in January 2001, he combined with Donovan to give the Americans youth and energy during their surprising run to the World Cup quarterfinals in South Korea the following year.

He went on to join PSV Eindhoven under Guus Hiddink in 2004 and scored four Champions League goals, becoming the first American to play in a semifinal. But his output dropped off during 2005-06, and he had a terrible game in the opening 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic at the 2006 World Cup, getting shifted to the right flank from the left to make room for Bobby Convey.

"We got nothing out of Beasley on the night," bristled then U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who also criticized several other players.

Beasley was loaned to Manchester City for 2006-07, then joined Glasgow Rangers. He was hurt for significant stretches of his three seasons in Scotland, and had just two goals in 14 appearances this season.

Before December, he played in just three club matches in the first half of the season, slowed by a hamstring injury sustained in August. Even worse, when he failed to read Donovan's short corner kick against Brazil last June, it led to a Kaka pass that helped feed Robinho's goal. The next stop was national team exile.

"DaMarcus had a stretch where things had not been going well with his club, and at the same time then when we were making roster decisions for camps and games, we felt that he — we made the decision not to bring him into our group," said Bradley, who succeeded Arena as national team coach in December 2006. "That's a tough thing for any player, especially a player who has experience and a history with the national team."

Beasley wasn't used for the three remaining matches of the Confederations Cup, and was ignored for the final five World Cup qualifiers and two exhibitions in Europe.

"It's got to be earned. It's got to be earned on a regular basis," Bradley said. "And when you come into camps, you've got to have the right mentality. You've got play well. You know, it's not just a given." —

Then Beasley scored two goals in a five-day span for Rangers in December, attracting some attention. Just as he was starting to regain form, he tore a quadriceps during training (an injury he still ices) and didn't return until Valentine's Day. While he was out, his BMW was set on fire outside his home in Glasgow on Feb. 1, an incident he won't comment about.

Bradley put him on the roster for the March 3 exhibition at the Netherlands. Beasley entered in the 34th minute for Stuart Holden, who broke a leg on a hard tackle by Nigel de Jong. Beasley had an impressive game, spending the rest of the first half on the right and the second on the left. His 35-yard free kick set up Carlos Bocanegra's goal in the Americans' 2-1 loss.

"In Holland in March, we saw the DaMarcus that we know, and I think something has clicked in his head and I think he's figuring out now what it takes to be an elite player and now we see that again," Donovan said. "We all figure out things out at different points and it seems like something has switched on and he realizes what this means and it's good to see him passionate and really wanting this."

Beasley played in just three league and two cup matches for Rangers after that, possibly because his contract was coming to an end — he's already decided to seek a new club for next season. But he kept up a good frame of mind.

Bradley thinks getting shunned for a lengthy period was key.

"Not being called in had hit him," the coach said. "Now, he had a different way about him."

When he reported to the national team in mid-May, selected for the 30-man preliminary roster, he realized his place in the final 23-man group wasn't assured. His eagerness to make the team showed in his play.

"My head's on right," he said early in the Princeton training camp. "I feel the confidence from my teammates and from the coaching staff. Sometimes players need confidence from the players or the coaches to push them. Once I had their backing again, it made me fit in more easily."

He played well in last week's 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic and didn't appear in Saturday's 2-1 win over Turkey. Saturday's exhibition against Australia is his last chance to impress before the World Cup opener against England.

"He's got that ability to take people on," said Bocanegra, the U.S. captain. "He cuts and slashes. He can make people miss. He's unpredictable in the attacking end, and he's very difficult for defenders to stop."

With 91 international appearances, Beasley now stands a chance to reach 100.

"I like being the old guy now. I like being the veteran. I like having more of a leadership role," Beasley said. "Bob is always pushing me to be more of a leader, on and off the field. That's a position I'm trying to step into."