Kyle Beckerman wasn't even supposed to be on the radar for this World Cup. Sure, he was a youth national teamer, but he fell off quickly and wasn't ever a real part of the senior team. The Jurgen Klinsmann took over, he got his chance and, coincidentally or not, the defensive midfielder played the best soccer of his life.
Now he's a finalist for U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the year.
He has a pretty good case to win it, too. He didn't have a seminal World Cup moment like Tim Howard, or an amazing goal like Jermaine Jones, and he doesn't wear the armband like Clint Dempsey. All Beckerman did was solidify a midfield in desperate need of it, protecting a vulnerable back line and freeing up the fullbacks and other midfielders to get forward without worry of being exposed.
Maybe most importantly, Beckerman played a bigger part in controlling tempo and establishing a modicum of possession than anyone else on the team. The U.S. may not have been as proactive as Klinsmann promised, but whenever they were, it was because of Beckerman.
Defensive midfielders rarely get enough praise. Their names are bandied about as the best players in the world or the best of all-time, no matter how good they are, but teams don't work without them. Defenses get killed, possession is lost, the transition game is non-existent and attackers spend too much time in their own half when there isn't a defensive midfielder to act as the bridge between the back line and the rest of the team. Beckerman isn't one of the best in the world, and certainly not one of the best of all-time, but he's better than anyone else the U.S. has, and he was exactly what the U.S. needed.
Beckerman was responsible and disciplined. He was smart and tidy. He was tough and committed.
Jones had a great World Cup and his work in the press, as well as getting forward with the ball, were integral to almost everything positive that the U.S. did, but he couldn't do any of that without Beckerman. The defensive midfielder's presence is what freed Jones to do everything that caused havoc for American opponents. Beckerman allowed for everyone's press, and is why Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron weren't defending 1v1 repeatedly.
Beckerman wasn't flashy. He wasn't a goalscorer. He wasn't a goalkeeper standing on his head. He wasn't even a physically imposing centerback. But don't underestimate how important he was to a U.S. team that was in need of a defensive midfielder and got as responsible of one as there is.
Does that make Beckerman the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year? Being the man the team needed on the biggest stage is at least a compelling case.