The nation's futbol team was training at Stanford University's football stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. The day was warm and sunny with a slight breeze. Birds chirped as coaches set up the day's drills and players began making their way to the field, playing soccer tennis and stretching before the organized activities began. A peaceful vibe pervaded the scene, a sensation heightened by awareness of the fact that in two weeks these guys would be under the watch of at least half of the planet in one of the wildest scenes on the globe — the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
While much has been made of Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to cut the team's all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan — who is still in the midst of a productive playing career (and who responded to the decision by promptly breaking the MLS scoring record as well) — not much has been made of DaMarcus. Look at the existing coverage: Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore and more. USA Today printed a 48-page World Cup guide - barely a mention.
But our man from Indiana is right in there with them, anchoring the left-side defense — and when he steps to the field on June 16 to take on Ghana in the so-called "Group of Death," Beasley will be the first U.S. player to appear in four World Cups. Here is what we talked about:
Q: So you were born in Fort Wayne and you went to high school for a couple years before you went pro?
A: Yeah ... I did finish high school. I went to high school in Fort Wayne for two years. And then I moved down to Bradenton, Fl. My junior and senior year and went to the U-17 national team.
Q: When do you think you knew you were a soccer player?
A: I knew it before I got to that camp obviously. I probably knew when I was 12 or 13. That's when I knew this is what I want to do; this is what I enjoy doing. I didn't know how far I could go, but I knew, obviously, I had a little bit of talent and I wanted to take it as far as I could. The league was just starting — the MLS — in '96. You had something to look up to, to look forward to, playing in a league.
Q: That's what I was curious about, from the Indiana perspective, who turned you on to the game? How did you first connect with it?
A: My father turned me on to the game. He doesn't have any background with soccer — no one in my family does... He just liked the game for some reason. He thought it was fun, a team sport, athletic for kids, but he never knew that myself — and my brother — would actually pick it up and enjoy it — and, obviously, be professional.
Q: Was he your youth coach?
A: He was never really my coach. He brought us the game, but kind of stepped aside and put us in the different leagues — like peewee and stuff like that. I was a young kid, just like any other kid.
Q: So you were just playing Fort Wayne , playing in leagues. Did you always have that fire, like when the ball at your feet, magic was happening?
A: I always loved the ball and loved to dribble — I was selfish on the field when I was younger, so I never wanted to pass. But, yeah, that's how I was when I was growing up.
Q: Besides for your father, are there other early influences?
A: One was Bronn Pfeiffer in Fort Wayne. One of the guys that taught me a lot when I was growing up when I started was Mark Wellington, he was another guy with my club team — called Fort Wayne Citadel — he was my coach since I was 12 or 13, going to tournaments and stuff. He was a big influence on me ... how you taught the game. There's a lot of guys É Bobby Poursanidis ... David Tanner. There's a lot of people that helped me in my area of Fort Wayne that helped me get to this point.
Q: It's almost like an anomaly. Like, how come just one set of brothers from Fort Wayne? It's wild!
A: I never thought in a million years that me and my brother would be professional athletes in this sport. I always said the greatest year of my career was playing professionally with my brother in Chicago. That's one of my favorite jerseys is the one that says D. Beasely and he has J. Beasley — they couldn't just put Beasley on the back of the jersey.
[NUVO: By the way, Peter Wilt (who hired the Beasley brothers to play in Chicago) says, "Hi."]
A: Tell him I said, "Hello." That was probably my favorite year — playing with my brother, being professional athletes. Our mom and dad there in the stands every Saturday — it was close to home. It was great to play with him and have that moment with my brother and having that moment together.
Q: Your first World Cup was South Korea. Then you had Germany and South Africa. How does place influence the experience of the tournament?
A: All three countries have been great. But obviously this is Brazil, 2014. This is where soccer is made, where soccer was born. You know, futbol? To be able to go to this World Cup at this time is a great event for everybody. Not just for America but for everybody, every country, all the fans, all the media to actually go to Brazil where soccer was supposedly, you know, born and have the World Cup here will be a great moment for futbol.
Q: You've been all over the world. You've seen all kinds of rich people, all kinds of poverty. You see the protests now and people are upset. How do you reckon with those things as you do what you do?
A: You don't take light of it because you hear about it on the news and read about it in the papers ... but as futbol players you try to keep that part out of it and keep focused on what you need to do. I'm sure Brazil will have everything ready for us, for all the teams to go and have a great World Cup, and a safe World Cup, obviously for fans, for friends, families. So I don't take too much into account to that because I do think that FIFA and Brazil as a country, as a nation, will do everything to make sure this World Cup is the best one yet.
Q: When people talk about the U.S. team now, you'll hear a lot about immature defense — you excluded, of course, being as a veteran — and a lot of youth. It was interesting to think you developed as an attacker, through mid and now here you are anchoring some defense. Talk about your awareness of that balance of being super goal hungry and at same time coming back and being stalwart protectors of your own goal.
A: It was difficult. I didn't really start understanding my position until I was probably 17-18. But when I was a youth, on the youth teams, I was a dribbler. Look at the tapes ... I dribbled. I was known as the guy that never passed the ball. I always kept it with me; I was quick, I was fast, I beat people.
When I went to Chicago and Bob Bradley was my coach there, he told me, "To really be a good player; you need to be a two-way player — you have to be a two-way player. You have to be able to attack. You have to be able to defend. That's what's going to make you great."
I've tried to take a little something from every coach that's had me as a player. And from Bob, that's what I took. I took that to heart and tried to understand: Be a left midfielder, but in certain aspects I have to help my left back in being able to defend, help him to understand the game, read the game. Not just going out there and playing soccer. 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. Doesn't matter sometimes how fast you are or how much skill you have. If you read the game and understand the game, you can play at this level for however long.
The Beckhams — I mean they're good players — but 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 skills. 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. It was instilled to me at a very young age, 17, to be able to do both, to run up and down the field and be fit, so I'm excited to play this position.
Q: Is it a mental switch or it just a matter of understanding possession?
A: You have to be a little more safe; actually you don't take any risks on the back because you are the last person — if you lose the ball, it's off to the races. Obviously with attacking, you can lose a ball and still have nine people behind you, so it's not the end of the world.You want your attackers to be free and express themselves. But, as far as defending, yeah, that click in my mind for me is different — that chip is turned on to defensive mode and I'll make sure I'm covering my center backs and I'll make sure that my defending is on point.
Q: Now that you have the experience, what can you give the young guys by way of a crash course in what you've learned?
A; To be honest, they've been defending their whole career. I've only been doing it for the last couple years. They've developed that mentality as a defender. I'm learning from them. They teach me every dayÉ on positioning and what we're doing. I had it down a little bit, obviously, before that game in Costa Rica [a critical qualifying match] — the snow game — because Coach Klinsmann wouldn't have asked me to play it if he didn't think I could play it. Obviously we had like three or four of our left backs out. No one could play it, so he asked him could I play and it and I said, "Yeah." He had that confidence in me at that time to say, "OK we'll put you back there and hopefully you'll do well." And here I am.
Q: One thing that's fun to look at in international competitions is the different styles and approaches the different nations take. We've always been such a melting pot, what's our style?
A: It's hard to say. I think at some point American will have their own style. The Dutch have their style. The English have their style. The Brazilians, Argentines — they have a style.
With the USA team, we do a have style, I think it's mix between English and a little bit of South American.
Q: So technical with a little bit of flare?
A: Yes, technical with a little bit of flare. We have the strength and power to beat teams down — to play the long ball, to out muscle teams; the way we run, the way we're fit; the way we control the game on the strength side of it. And also, we can play the tiki-taka guys that play futbol. Look at our line up: You've got Clint, you've got Michael, you've got Zusi, Jermaine Jones.. they play futbol ... Jozy – they play good futbol. Keep the ball on the ground and make little angles for themselves. We have guys that keep the ball on the ground and keep it when we're tired. We have both — it's hard to say we have one specific style because I think we have a little bit of two.
Q: What's Ghana's style?
A: Ghana's style? They're powerful, they're strong, physical. They play good futbol, they like to keep the ball on the ground... they rely a lot on athleticism because they are so quick and so fast. We have to be ready for their counterattacks — they are very quick. Most African teams, how they play, they have good organization from front to back — they have a couple guys, usually, on the team that can hurt you. We have to make sure we're aware of their key guys and not get in too many one-on-one situations where another guy can't help the defender.
But, yeah, it's going to be a great first game.
Q: Of the first three teams in the group you'll be playing, have you played with any of them on the same team?
A: I haven't seen the Portugal or German roster. Ghana? No, I know that. But I've known those guys playing in the leagues and competition; I've played against most of them.
Q: Do you believe in the zone and is there anything you do to prepare for the zone when you approach your match?
A: I'm not superstitious. Guys will tell you they do left foot first, right foot first. That's not me.
QL: What about the mental state?
A: I just like to listen to music. I listen from the bus ... It's getting me up, there's happiness in the music. ... It's not like I'm so in zone that I don't speak to people. It's not like that. I need to be myself; I need to still have fun and laugh in the locker room before the game.
I'll always listen to music for at least 10 minutes, that's when I'll be in my zone. I'll keep my head down and listen.
Q: Who gets the honor of being on those mixes?
A: Well, I'm hip-hop guy and I like reggae as well. Usually its Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, Rick Ross; T.I. is one of my favorites – those guys have songs and beats that get you moving and get me in the mood to play some futbol.
Q: What about reggae?
A: Alkaline, obviously Bob, I like Tarrus Riley; Baby Shab; Movado. There's a million I can name.
Q: What else are you looking forward to in Brazil?
A: Right now that's all I'm focused on. I'm not worried about anything else besides that. I'm really looking forward to this tournament. It could be my last one; I want to enjoy it but at the same time make sure we have a good run. We have a good team, a young team, an exciting team. I'm looking forward to playing and I'm excited about what we can do.
Q: I think it's pretty cool because nobody knows what's in store for them. Anything can happen.
A: That's what I'm saying. A lot of people don't know our players. It's different between 2010 and 2014. I think five or six were in 2010 are in 2014.
Q: Not very many. And, if and when you play, you will be the first guy to play four World Cups for the U.S.
A: Yes. There was a lot of change from the last World Cup to this one. So, I think that bodes well for us. A lot of teams don't know our players. I'm sure they'll do their homework. It's a World Cup, so no team is going to take any team lightly.
Q: When people make out their brackets, they don't even think about the U.S. at the top, which is awesome because then you guys can come from out of nowhere and surprise everyone. How much fun would that be?
A:That would be a lot of fun. But to be honest, I don't think we'll surprise anybody. I mean teams do know how good we are.
Q: The world is not accepting U.S. soccer. They laugh at us, you know?
A: Because of the group. But they know who are players are. They know the Michael Bradleys, the Clint Dempseys ...
Q: They know you guys as individuals, but as a country I think they take a little glee in the fact we haven't got ours yet.
A: I look at it this way: If the U.S. wasn't in this group, would it still be the Group of Death? Why is it the Group of Death with America? Why isn't the group with England, Italy and Uruguay? Three big countries that have the chance to win the World Cup. Why isn't that the group of death?
I think people do look at us as a country that's growing in soccer. But they know how strong we are, how physical. They know they can't take us lightly because we'll punish them. We've done that winning in Europe big games. Winning at home against European team, South American teams. We've done that.
The fun thing about futbol — soccer — is: It's one game. Whoever is best on that day will win the game. End of story.
In the World Cups, you see so many upsets, or you think it's an upset where they
With the World Cup, anything can happen. So for people to take us lightly, I don't take it as compliment or a slam. But maybe it wouldn't be the Group of Death if the USA wasn't in this group. But we are and they call it the Group of Death because it four good teams.
Q: I look forward to more people learning who you are and building our culture in Indiana so we can have some future DaMarcus Beasleys.
A: I love coming back home when, when I do come home. I don't get back very often, but Indiana is always my home. My mom and dad are still there. I still have my school there in the summer. I try to find the next Landon Donovan, the next Jozy Altidore, the next Clint Dempsey.
Q: They're out there.
A: I know they're out there, so many kids especially in our area of Indiana. There are so many good players. Whatever I can do to help, I will. I'm excited about the future and I'm excited to in 10 years look back and say, "This guy is from Fort Wayne." And
I want him to play in five [World Cups]. That's what I want for the people from my area. I want to see the sport grow. I'm excited to sit back one day in 20 years and say, "Hey, I used to do that one day."