This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Kyle Beckerman bounced into the interview room, concluding Real Salt Lake's preseason Media Day with enough enthusiasm to last all season.
That's an exaggeration, considering the length of the interminable Major League Soccer schedule. Yet in the first 18 seconds of his response to a question about RSL's direction, Beckerman said, "I'm excited" three times. That's a club record.
Entering his 10th full season with RSL, the team captain sounds rejuvenated about the additions of playmaking midfielder Albert Rusnak and MLS veterans Chad Barrett and David Horst, among others. After two weeks of training in Arizona, he's eager for the next segment of the preseason in Portland, moving toward the March 4 season opener vs. Toronto at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"We want to put Utah in the bright lights again," Beckerman said. "And when we get to the bright lights, to be able to perform."
Suddenly, it has been eight seasons since Real won the 2009 MLS Cup championship. The four years that followed actually were more impressive, as RSL maintained an aura of one of the league's best teams. Then came the departure of coach Jason Kreis, to be followed by the losses of front office personnel and a rebuilding of the team.
So for the past three seasons, RSL has been just ordinary. Beckerman wants more, expects more and demands more from this club as he approaches his 35th birthday in April. Satisfaction might be coming in 2017, judging by his first impressions of Rusnak, the 22-year-old star from the Czech Republic.
"I knew he had something special to him, the first practice I had with him," Beckerman said.
Beckerman remembers having the same feeling about Javier Morales, the RSL fixture who was allowed to go to FC Dallas this winter. Beckerman praised Morales, saying he'll always have an imprint on the franchise. Yet he's also inspired by the "fresh blood" that general manager Craig Waibel acquired and is eager to see how everything comes together under coach Jeff Cassar, who was retained for a fourth season but with a guarantee of only one year.
The 2016 season ended poorly for RSL. The team couldn't score in the last month, falling in the playoff seeding and losing to Los Angeles in the one-game knockout stage. "Momentum is such a huge thing," Beckerman said, referencing Sunday's Super Bowl.
RSL played the role of the Falcons, in case you're wondering.
Three months later, Beckerman spoke of "a fresh feeling" in the locker room. Any team's captain could say the same thing, but somehow it means more coming from Beckerman. He wouldn't say this stuff if he didn't believe it, and he confirmed that he's more upbeat about RSL's prospects than in recent years.
To review: He's "excited" about this team. He's "super-excited" about Rusnak.
We'll see how long that lasts. Inevitably, there will be ups and downs, streaks and slumps, during an MLS season that runs from March 4 to Oct. 22 followed by the playoffs. Postseason play once seemed automatic during Beckerman's RSL tenure, until the team failed to qualify in 2015 and exited quickly in 2016.
This team appears built to last longer, with just enough of a roster upgrade and a coaching staff that seems to have a better idea of how to maximize the talent.
And it all revolves around Beckerman, who posted only one assist last year. Rusnak describes him as "a real leader of the team in every aspect, on and off the field."
Veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando endorses Beckerman's competitive nature, saying he "takes it personal when we lose."
That happened too much in the final stages of 2016. Beckerman intends to do something about it.