SAO PAULO – DaMarcus Beasley is a legend but he doesn't want to talk about it. Not yet at least.
"I'm not a big fan of individual accomplishment," he said. "I'll talk about that after I'm done."
The 32-year-old Beasley is a walking, breathing piece of United States soccer history. He is the first American to have played in four World Cups, an achievement matched by only 29 other players from any country in the tournament's 84 years of existence. The exclusive group includes eternal icons such as Pele and Diego Maradona, all-time World Cup leading scorer Miroslav Klose and modern greats like Thierry Henry.
Beasley might be the most surprising name on the list.
His national team career looked to be on life support more times than he can remember, but heading into the Team USA's round-of-16 clash with Belgium on Tuesday, he is still starting and remains a crucial part of another very different American team.
Beasley has done it by reinventing himself and allowing himself to be reinvented. The role he plays under Jurgen Klinsmann as essentially a left-sided wing back, mixing defense and attack, is a long way from the high-speed, offensive-minded duties of his youth and preference. The transformation can be likened to a high-scoring guard in basketball becoming a lock-down defender late in his career.
"I'm in a different position," said Beasley, who became the first American to play in the UEFA Champions League semifinals with PSV Eindhoven in 2005. "Back in those days, I always wanted to score goals and make the last assist or something like that, but now it's a different mindset.
"[This is] a new position I like. It lets me get up and down when I have the chance to, but for me being on the field is great. I still play the same. I still play with the same heart and desire to win every game, to win every tackle. I'm just happy to be here."
Five years ago, Beasley's days with the national team looked to be done. He struggled in the 2009 Confederations Cup and was going nowhere at club level, bouncing around Europe in search of playing time. But a move to Mexico with Puebla in 2011 – he is the only Liga MX player on the U.S. roster – rejuvenated his career. Klinsmann soon found a use for him.
After a difficult World Cup opener in which Ghana's right winger Christian Atsu proved to be fast and elusive, Beasley performed strongly against Portugal and solidly against Germany. It is hard to see him being replaced by untested Timmy Chandler against Belgium.
Factor in the do-or-die nature of the knockout round, and Beasley's experience is even more valuable.
"It's a one-and-done," he said. "It's all about who wants it more and who goes to the next round. You've got to give everything, defending and attacking. You can't leave anything on the field.
"I enjoy it. It's fun for me to play. Once you get your first touch on the ball, it's like you're playing any other game. You forget about the World Cup, you forget about the fans, you just go out there and play and make sure you're focused in your position and do what you need to do to win the game."
Handling a knockout stage is a special science. Games are often tense and cagey. One mistake can decide everything and this U.S. squad is low on experience.
Julian Green was seven years old when Beasley played in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan; DeAndre Yedlin was 8. Those two and John Brooks might be the best chances for another four-time U.S. World Cup player unless Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore maintain a high standard well into their 30s.
Told recently that he could match the all-time record for playing in World Cups – five, held by Mexican goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal and German legend Lothar Matthaus – Beasley laughed loudly.
"You're crazy," he cackled before pausing for thought and fixing a mock-serious look on his face. "It'd be cool, though … "
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