Indiana native DaMarcus Beasley, who recently made sports history as the first U.S. man to play in four World Cups, returned to his home state last week for the first time in four years.
The U.S. finished its run in the 2014 tournament in Brazil on July 1 with a 2-1 extra-time loss to Belgium in the second-stage Round of 16. Thirty-two-year-old Beasley played in the left back position for each minute of all four games in which the U.S. appeared.
The defender, who grew up in Fort Wayne, joined the pre-game festivities at Indy Eleven's home game on Saturday and also spent some time in Allen County with his family and campers attending the Beasley National Soccer School.
During a press conference on Friday at the soccer school in Fort Wayne, a reporter asked for his thoughts about how to be successful in life.
"It's pretty simple: Shoot for the stars," Beasley responded. "Never let anyone tell you that you can't do something."
At his soccer school, campers are told to "play with a smile on your face" and that whatever goals they pursue in life, whether they be on the soccer field or in other realms, "to have passion in what you do."
Beasley, who has played in several top leagues around the world — most recently with Mexico's Puebla F.C., exhibited some of that passion when he answered questions about his playing future.
"I would literally play almost anywhere," he said, noting that he is in negotiation with several clubs to determine where he will find his next challenge. "Where that will be, I don't know yet. I just want to be happy and play fútbol, enjoy the sport and get as much out of it as I can until I decide to retire."
Later he added, "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'd have been in this place. I'm truly humbled and truly blessed."
When asked if he thinks he can appear in five World Cups, he replied that he does not know what the future holds, but that he will not give up his spot on the national team without a fight.
"I'll never give up," he said. "I won't let someone take my spot easily ... I'm going to give it my all."
Among the highest-profile, near-term challenges for U.S. Men's National Team: the CONCACAF Gold Cup, set for July 7-26, 2015, and the Copa America Centenario, the 100th anniversary of the Copa America competition, which will be held for the first time in the U.S. in 2016.
In response to a question about whether he thought the team played up to its potential in the World Cup, Beasley said, "Yes and no. We didn't always play the best soccer we know how to play ... but one thing is for sure, we left it all out on the field. We never gave up. We tried to play the game on our own terms and it was obviously tough at times."
But, he added, the U.S. team managed to silence critics by surviving the so-called Group of Death by the merits of its own hard work. It wasn't luck that Ronaldo scored against Ghana (which clinched the USMNT's ability to advance) — or that Portugal's superstar managed to launch a cross that assisted Portugal's tie against the U.S., Beasley observed, explaining that the U.S. team was able to advance in spite of, not because of Ronaldo.
"I maybe could have shut (Ronaldo) down a little quicker and maybe stopped the cross," Beasley told his campers. "But that didn't happen — that's why he's the best player in the world. The one chance he got, he made it happen."
Well, maybe not the best player in the world. When the campers later began exploring that question, Beasley admitted his own personal bias: "Messi. For me, Messi [of Argentina] is the best player in the world."
And, he added, as far as the best team in the world goes, Germany deserved its World Cup title. After the U.S. played Germany to a 1-0 loss in Recife, Beasley said, "I knew they'd be the champion; they were the best team in the tournament from top to bottom."
"Were you nervous to play in the World Cup?" one kid asked.
No, Beasley said, once he walks on the field he just tries to enjoy the game and do the things that got him there in the first place.
"What was it like to win against Ghana?" the kids wanted to know.
"To win that game in the 86th/87th minute was pretty special," he said. "We trained a lot on corner kicks. For it to work and to have a young guy named John Brooks score ... it was a special moment because they'd had beaten us in the last two World Cups. To get a little payback and get the Cup started on the right foot was pretty special. I was definitely ecstatic when we scored that goal."
"Who's the most famous person you've met?" another kid asked.
"Well, I've met the last two presidents," Beasley said. "Who is the most famous person you know? [LeBron James, came the answer.] Yes, I've met LeBron. He's huge — and a huge soccer fan."