There were times during the past year when it seemed as though U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley had played himself off the national team for good. A 27-year-old left winger who burst onto the scene during the 2002 World Cup, Beasley saw injuries and lackluster form hinder his standing at Glasgow Rangers, and he was dropped from the U.S. roster during World Cup qualifying after his bad giveaway handed Brazil a goal in last summer's Confederations Cup. But with less than three months to go until South Africa, Beasley is firmly back in the national-team picture, thanks to a rash of U.S. injuries and Beasley's encouraging performance in a 2--1 loss at the Netherlands on March 3.
In fact, if the World Cup began this month, Beasley would be a candidate for the starting lineup. Midfielder Stuart Holden broke his right fibula in Amsterdam, ruling him out for six weeks, and Beasley was effective in his place, embarking on darting runs, helping defend the dangerous Dutch wingers and hitting a well-placed free kick that Carlos Bocanegra headed in for the U.S.'s goal. Now that Beasley has healed from a nagging thigh strain, his big-game experience and speed on the flanks could be assets this June. "You started to see the mobility, a little bit of the quickness, the confidence of being a threat and putting defenders on their heels," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said regarding Beasley afterward.
Injuries have defined Beasley's recent career, none of them worse than the torn right posterior cruciate ligament he suffered with Rangers in 2007, which sidelined him for six months and reduced his ability to beat defenders one-on-one. The thigh injury in December came just as he had worked his way back into the lineup with Rangers and scored two goals in four games. The U.S. loss in Amsterdam was Beasley's second match of any kind since Dec. 19 and his first for the Yanks since the fateful Brazil game last June, when he was pulled at halftime. "It's good just to be around the team and feel like you belong again," Beasley says.
Bradley has to give FIFA his 23-man World Cup roster by June 1, and his preparations have been complicated by injuries to several U.S. regulars: forward Charlie Davies, defender Oguchi Onyewu, and midfielders Holden, Clint Dempsey, Benny Feilhaber and Ricardo Clark. All but Davies are expected to be at 100% by the time the U.S. convenes its pre--World Cup camp on May 15, but it would be naive to assume that other injuries won't pop up. As a result, the next three months will be important for bubble players such as Beasley. "There are going to be decisions that you base in some cases on form, in some cases fitness and versatility," Bradley says. "You've got to put a roster together where you can cover all the situations that arise."
Beasley's chances are more promising than at any time in the past eight months. Last Saturday he started and played 64 minutes against St. Mirren in a 3--1 victory for Rangers, who are headed for their second straight Scottish league title. "I feel that now my injuries are over, and hopefully I can take this game and keep playing well for Rangers." If so, look for Beasley to be wearing red, white and blue in South Africa.
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How has Landon Donovan's 10-week loan to Everton gone? Better than anyone could have expected. On Sunday at Everton's Goodison Park, with U.S. coach Bob Bradley in attendance, the American midfielder had a goal and an assist in a 5--1 win over Hull City, then ran what looked like a farewell lap to chants of U-S-A! Donovan, who turned 28 last week, is expected to return to the Galaxy on March 15 for the start of the MLS season unless there is a players' strike. "Assuming today's the last home game, you want it to end that way," said Donovan (below), who added that his successful stint had given him increased confidence for the U.S.'s World Cup opener on June 12 against England.
UWE SPECK/WITTERS SPORT/US PRESSWIRE (BEASLEY)
RENEWED THREAT Subbed in after an injury, Beasley (7) displayed his old confidence and quickness against the Netherlands.