Kyle Beckerman: A legend in a league still figuring out how to define one

Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Beckerman should go down as an all-time MLS great, but properly appreciating his career is a tough task.

“I don’t think he gets as much love as he should, in my opinion, because I just don’t think you could give him enough love.”

I’m talking to Chris Wingert about a man who isn’t good at talking about himself. That is why Wingert, Tony Beltran and the rest of Real Salt Lake’s entrenched core may be better sources on Kyle Beckerman than the man who’d know best. If you want engaging but straightforward, go to Kyle. If you want somebody to actually dig deep on Beckerman? You’ll have a hard time getting that from the Real Salt Lake icon.

“Somebody that’s successful as Kyle but is also very humble is not going to want to brag about his accomplishments,” Wingert says behind a knowing laugh about his teammate of 10 seasons. “It’s better to talk to some other people.”

That humility may be one of the reasons why Beckerman is one of the underappreciated jewels of Major League Soccer, something that seems like hyperbole, especially when you’re talking about a player who served an important role for the U.S. men’s national team at the last World Cup. But Major League Soccer, being such a young league, has had very few players who have spent a decade in one place, let alone served as a cornerstone for what was once a neophyte club. Beckerman has helped guide RSL from competitive obscurity to a model of franchise growth. He’s won an MLS Cup, another Western Conference title, is a multi-time All-Star and is the captain of one of the most iconic squad cores in league history.

It’s similar to Jeter. It’s not just a matter of his actual play on the field. It’s his presence. And that’s not something that can be calculated with numbers.

- Chris Wingert

That’s how the Derek Jeter comparison came about. I throw it out, while interviewing Wingert, as an example of club icons in other sports, noting both that Major League Soccer does not have baseball’s history and that the comparison may be a stretch.

“I actually think that is a decent comparison,” Wingert retorts. Beckerman may not be playing baseball in New York, and enjoying the profile that goes with it, but, as the New York native explains, that doesn’t mean Beckerman hasn’t had a similar impact in Utah.

“The uniqueness of the situation, because of what Real means to Salt Lake City, since really it’s just the Jazz and us in terms of professional sports,” Wingert explains. “Kyle is the athlete in Utah. He’s the guy. And he’s been for a decade.”

“It’s similar to Jeter. It’s not just a matter of his actual play on the field. It’s his presence. And that’s not something that can be calculated with numbers.”

Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

How can MLS have a Derek Jeter and not know it? Perhaps because Beckerman isn’t quite the Derek Jeter of soccer, but his importance to one franchise compares favorably to other celebrated cornerstones. If he’s not a Jeter, it’s certainly fair to ask if he’s what former Padre Tony Gwynn was to San Diego, or if he was as important to building Real Salt Lake as Kevin Garnett was to establishing the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The legacies of those athletes, both Hall of Fame-caliber in their sports, float in rarified air, but perhaps Beckerman’s should, too. His position doesn’t lend itself to lofty attacking numbers, but in his defensive midfield role, he has accumulated more appearances (412), starts (403) and minutes (34,117) than any field player in Major League Soccer history. He’s done so as the leader of a team that, shortly after his arrival, discarded expansion struggles for perennial contention, eventually coming closer to claiming a CONCACAF Champions League than any MLS club has in the expansion era. All the while, he’s performed at a level that’s earned him one of the greatest endorsements possible: a regular role with his national team, one that’s added 58 international appearances to an illustrious club career.

Kyle Beckerman is Hall of Fame material. He’s not only a legend in Salt Lake; he’s a legend of the entire league. The question is … why isn’t he seen as one?

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