- Rebecca Townsend
Obviously, DaMarcus Beasley — who on Monday became the first player on the U.S. Men's National Team to play in four World Cups — has matured into a team player of the highest caliber.
As a kid, however, Beasley was a self-described ball hog.
"He dribbled like crazy," said Bobby Poursanidis, a former pro player who coached Beasley in Fort Wayne and now co-owns the Beasley Soccer School with him.
While the coaches would yell at him to pass, Beasley would routinely dribble around several opposing players before shooting or finally giving up a pass. As they watched him develop as a player, the coaches began to reconsider their approach to youth players.
These days at the under-12 level in Fort Wayne, Poursanidis encourages kids to be ball hogs by making sure each practice has more balls and more opportunities for kids to get on the ball.
"We saw that if you can get them to gain more confidence on the ball – that confidence is more important when you are older," he said.
As a teenager, Beasley's exceptional athleticism forced more change.
Another coach from Beasley's Fort Wayne days, Bronn Pfeiffer, remembered his first encounter with Beasley at a practice. At the time, Pfeiffer, also a former pro player, was still playing a lot with the kids during practice: "I remember DaMarcus pushing the ball to go past me and I tried to do an obstruction step — he was so quick he'd go right around you with his pace."
This led to his nickname at the time — WaterBug.
- Rebecca Townsend
"He was here, there and everywhere else," Pfeiffer said. "His quickness was unbelievable — something I'd never seen as a coach in a player, that physical quickness and speed was phenomenal."
Ultimately, adjusting to this kind of talent forced Pfeiffer to do something he'd never before done as a coach: restructure his entire coaching system based on the talents of one player. Instead of Pfeiffer's traditional team formation with four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards (a "4-4-2" in soccer shorthand), Pfeiffer began playing a 4-5-1.
"Go wherever you want to go," Pfeiffer remembered telling Beasley. "We let him fool around; do what ever he wanted. He was that kind of talent."
The local coaches weren't the only ones to notice his talent. Soon the Olympic development people keyed in and then Beasley was offered an opportunity to finish his high school career in Bradenton, Fla., at the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
"I remember taking DaMarcus to the airport," his mother, Joetta, said in an interview the night before her family left to see her son play in Brazil. "I remember the look he gave me, what he had on. Oh, I remember that day. At the time I'm thinking, 'My baby is leaving me!' But he was so focused and so determined."
In thinking back on the approach she took to parenting with her husband, Henry, she identified one consistent theme they tried to impart to DaMarcus and his older brother, Jamar (who also played professional soccer): "We always encouraged them, 'Once you start something, finish it!'"
This may account for some of Beasley's longevity. Poursanidis remarked that Beasley has demonstrated exceptional ability to rise above short-term adversity (such as ACL surgery and an under-appreciation by a few coaches that led to some long stretches on the bench). Beasley's pursuit of long-term goals, Poursanidis said, is a characteristic that separates players with raw talent from those who are able to refine it and succeed in the pros.
"To train as hard as he needs to, stay mentally strong to compete at that level, to deal with all the disappointments when you know how good you are ..." Poursanidis said. "Then getting the call from Klinsmann to play a position he's never played, winning the 2013 CONCACF Gold Cup ... And now he's heading to his fourth World Cup. For me, it's amazing.
"He's a tough dude."
This toughness has been consistent.
- Rebecca Townsend
Indy Eleven President Peter Wilt, for whom both Beasley brothers played in the early 2000s when Wilt was president and general manager of the Chicago Fire, also complimented Beasley on his on and off the field.
Wilt predicted that, as a player, Beasley will bring to the World Cup some of the same characteristics he brought to the Fire and every other team for which he has played: "His speed, his skill, his ability to draw fouls. He provides a different dynamic than you can get anywhere else. He's dangerous, creates plays and forces opponents to be aware of this side of the field."
On the personal side, Wilt said, "DaMarcus has lived life in a bit of a fishbowl since a young age and has handled it extremely well — it's not an easy thing to do."
Yet here he is.
"I'm hoping people are grasping this," Poursanidis said. "What this individual has accomplished. And he is so level-headed and down to earth that it is not affecting him in any negative way. It's all positive. He's excited for himself and he's excited for the game."
Poursanidis added that, as proud as he is of Beasley's on-field accomplishment, he is even more proud of what Beasley has given back to the sport in terms of the time he will take to talk to kids, sign autographs and even, at times, personally lead clinics.
- Rebecca Townsend
"We have a young lady, Sarah Killian ... she was very motivated seeing guys like DaMarcus and Jamar make it and eventually she got a full ride to UCLA and she played in U-20 World Cup — and she did something DaMarcus has never done, she's won a World Cup," Poursanidis said. "This is what DaMarucs has done. He has affected people."
His family and friends are excited to see what he will do in Brazil.
"I think it's one of the most amazing feats in sports that we've ever had in the U.S." said Drew Shinabarger, a former teammate of Beasley's who went on to win two national championships with Indiana University in 1999 and 2003. "To have someone to play at the highest level for four World Cups? That's 16 years!"
The prospect of watching his friend play in Brazil was too much for Shinabarger to resist. In a call from the airport on his way to South America, he remarked, "Man, when am I going to get a chance to not only watch a friend that I grew up with play, but to watch him make one of the greatest contributions to U.S sports? It's just incredible."
Shinabarger credited Beasley's success, in part, to his ability to adapt, "his ability to always change his game." Whereas in his first World Cup, Beasley was riding more on his "raw talent," he's now "playing smarter and more consistent ... really in mindset and style."
Beasley himself echoed a similar sentiment in an interview in following a team training in late May.
"That's why you see the guys that are 36, 37 still playing at this level because they understand the game — they read the game faster than the guys who are 20," he said. "The Beckhams ... the Maldinis [great Italian defender who retired at 41], Del Piero [a 40-year-old Italian attacker], those guys are still playing not just because they have so much skill — that part obviously diminishes as you get older — but the understanding is so on another level than a 22 year old. That's how they're still able to play and that's how my transition came from a striker then to the mid to now, in 2014, as a defender."