Empire XI: Cristiano Ronaldo and Kyle Beckerman Aim to Reverse Their Country’s Fortunes

Beckerman Ronaldo Portugal USMNT

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS
Staff Writer

Today, Group G is all about familiarity. Germany and Portugal are playing for the fourth time in the last five major tournaments while the US Men’s National Team and Ghana will meet in a third consecutive World Cup. While each match-up today is the enthralling continuation to each of their respective series, each match-up in the group also boils down to one simple narrative.

For the European rivalry, it has been the German neutralization of Cristiano Ronaldo. In the case of USA-Ghana, it has been the American defensive midfielder’s costly mistake in the face of Ghanaian pressure.

Ronaldo has failed to score a goal or record an assist in each of his meetings with Germany — all Portugal losses. In the two teams’ most recent meeting at Euro 2012, Ronaldo’s frustrating performance and frustration towards his teammates served as the most recent nadir of his international career. Ronaldo rebounded, guiding Portugal to the semifinals while finishing as joint top scorer.

Today, he reprises his role as the protagonist for Portugal’s attack, trying to continue a golden period with Real Madrid while ignoring the physical costs accumulated when one tries to prove that he is the best player in the world.

Kyle Beckerman will never be the best player in the world. However, he will be just as important to his team’s cause as the best player in the world is to his. The holding midfielder for USA in the past two World Cups has seen their giveaway to a Ghanaian player be immediately converted into a goal that served as the unceremonious end to their competitive national team careers. Beckerman will play at the base of the USMNT’s midfield diamond, fully aware that any time he gets caught in possession or makes an errant pass, it could lead to a Ghana goal. He is also fully aware that his successful distributions will determine how successful the US is at executing their possession-based game plan.

Ronaldo and Beckerman are not just opposites but they are antonyms. They, like all human beings, dream of the possibilities of what’s to come.  The difference between them is that Ronaldo’s dreams become goals that he and the world convert to lofty expectations while Beckerman’s dreams are visions that improbably come true. Ronaldo has his own museum, Beckerman used to sign letters to his mother as “Kyle Beckerman USA #15.”

As playmakers, each becomes his team’s architect, molding each team in a manner that fits his vision. Ronaldo’s admiration for the spotlight is well-known but his ability to single-handedly drive Portugal’s attack as creator or finisher serves as evidence that he knows how to manipulate the spotlight as well. Beckerman is a puppeteer, serving as both controller and cornerstone to the American’s attacking movement.

The easy line to make when contrasting Ronaldo and Beckerman would involve the ego difference between the two and it is justifiable to make that comparison. After all, Ronaldo is the face of Real Madrid, Beckerman is the face of Real Salt Lake. One is the brightest of the Galaticos, the other is the most modest player on MLS’ most modest franchise.

However, ego and prominence are not what makes these two players antonyms — it is activity.

Ronaldo is active. He has the skillset and physical ability to create, conduct and consecrate attacking movements all by himself with teammates smart enough to let him perform, but incapable of incorporating themselves into his movements on a regular basis. However, this Portugal team presents Ronaldo with the best props for him to perform with and any questions about how he can perform with high quality props at his disposal can be answered with a showing of the most recent Ballon d’Or trophy that sits in his trophy collection.

Beckerman is passive. He will be the least athletic player on the field in Natal and will be seldom seen in the attacking third. If there is a US goal, he’ll probably not be in the celebration shot.  His starting spot for the kickoff is much closer. However, if the full sequence of the American goal is analyzed by ESPN in their studio afterwards, don’t be surprised if the first thing you see in the clip is a Beckerman pass.

If Ghana scores, don’t be surprised if the first thing you see in the subsequent replay is a Beckerman giveaway. If Germany wins, don’t be surprised if the first Portuguese sight you see after the final whistle is an aggravated Ronaldo trying to shun the same spotlight he once successfully manipulated.

The American defensive midfielder’s mistake and Portuguese attacking midfielder’s silent performances serve as the status quo before today’s meetings of familiar foes. Kyle Beckerman and Cristiano Ronaldo, polar opposites as players, are synonymous today because they are tasked with earning their team something that is unfamiliar to each of them as they approach their respective match: a win.

Empire XI

1. The New York Cosmos won the first installment of the (insert trademarkable rivalry name between them and the New York Red Bulls here) and it fulfills expectations for the club. Given the geographical structure of the US Open Cup, the same storyline about how the Red Bulls or New York City FC will field a reserve-laden side against an eager Cosmos squad looking to prove a point to MLS will exist because the MLS side will always take the early Open Cup round to rotate their side. The consequences of a one-and-done Open Cup run are not as severe as lost points in the Regular Season.

2. That being said, the Red Bulls did lay an egg and while the Cosmos deserve credit for making them pay, the lack of motivation amongst the players is concerning. While the Open Cup this year is rightfully not a priority for the Red Bulls, playing time is a priority for the players and none of the fringe players helped their case for more playing time in MLS or Champions League.

3. For the Cosmos, the hype paid off. Fans came and saw the Cosmos walk the walk. The overall likelihood to use the Open Cup as an anger-the-establishment strategy remains relatively low, but a win against the Red Bulls is step one.

4. Overall, the fact that NASL teams went 3–0 against MLS sides might buoy the NASL’s officials and its fans but only the Atlanta Silverbacks’ win against Real Salt Lake serves as a certified upset. The fact that some in those camps are attempting to mold that fact into part of a greater argument for pro/rel or giving the NASL a Champions League berth or some sort of split Division I sanction disrespects the Open Cup and is ultimately a waste of time.

5. Touting Costa Rica’s 3–1 win against Uruguay as a sign of CONCACAF’s overall improvement is relatively easy thing to do, but that is a little too superficial a storyline. The region’s overall improvement led to results like the one we saw on June 14 but the overall improvement can be attributed to the fact that the region has far better coaching than it did at any previous point.

Julio Dely Valdes got Panama to within minutes of an intercontinental playoff berth after the country only made one previous appearance in The Hex recording just two points. Jorge Luis Pinto is well-known for his extensive video preparation and the 3–1 win against the US in World Cup Qualifying and the win against Uruguay are both perfect examples of that preparation paying off.

6. Another positive of CONCACAF coaching can be seen with Mexico in that they used Rafael Marquez and Gerardo Torrado in the 2010 World Cup to create a three-man backline when in possession, which led to some impressive performances before another Round of 16 defeat to Argentina. That is something the USMNT adopted with Kyle Beckerman at the base of their midfield diamond and it is something a fair share of European teams have also adopted as a way to play from the back and retain possession.

7. Much has been made about the fact that teams fielding three-man backlines have won every match and while Argentina played three center backs, it was not a smart move for Head Coach Alejandro Sabella who corrected himself at halftime by switching back to the 4-3-3 that made La Albiceleste so dynamic in World Cup Qualifying. Gonzalo Higuain not being fit to go a full match may have contributed to the decision to field a 5-3-2 formation but Ezequiel Lavezzi was an option from the start.

8. There is a troubling connection between all the favorites in this tournament and that is their relatively rusty, out-of-form goalkeepers. Julio Cesar only played seven games in 2014 for Toronto FC and looked shaky for Brazil late in the second half against Croatia. Iker Casillas was not the number one goalkeeper for Real Madrid last season and got beat five times by The Netherlands in Spain’s stunning loss. Sergio Romero only played nine times for AS Monaco last season and got beat five-hole by Bosnia and Herzegovina forward Vedad Ibisevic. Germany, Italy, France and Belgium—arguably the teams considered to be second favorites—do not have this problem which could prove to be the difference as the tournament wears on.

9. The main concern with Germany is that Head Coach Joachim Loew has not decided on his Starting XI but the feeling is that Loew will play Philipp Lahm in the midfield and go with a back four comprised of solely centerbacks with Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker in the center and Benedikt Howedes and Jerome Boateng at left and right fullback, respectively.

10. Bastian Schweinsteiger is fit after being airlifted to the hospital for a checkup on a previously injured knee. The airlift comes as a result of traffic concerns, the checkup comes as a result of insurance concerns. Regardless, Schweinsteger might not start for Loew who favors Sami Khedira as Lahm’s partner in midfield if Loew goes with a 4-2-3-1. If Loew goes 4-3-3, Toni Kroos looks more likely to start.

11. Overall, the Germany-Portugal match has the most potential to disappoint because of Germany’s lineup questions and Portugal’s over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo and their solid back four. Germany seem like a squad that will have to go through trial and error to find the right starting group but there is a prevailing sense that the pieces will fit at some point during the next three matches.

Portugal’s defense will make finding the right connection difficult and Germany’s defense and midfield can contain Ronaldo and stifle Portugal’s attack. Unfortunately, we are due for a draw and while that result does not help the US, it does look like that will be the result on Monday.


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