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World Cup: US Midfielder Beasley Earns High Praise - 2002-06-12

The average age for the U.S. Soccer team in South Korea at the World Cup is 27.6 years. That is the oldest side the Americans have ever sent to football's premier event. But two of the players who have been in the starting line up for the first two matches are only 20-years-old. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer had a chance to visit with one of them in Seoul.

Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley is the youngest player on the U.S. Soccer team, having turned 20 on May 24. Coincidentally, that is the day the American team arrived in Seoul to begin its 2002 World Cup campaign.

Fellow midfielder Landon Donovan turned 20 three months earlier than Beasley, and Coach Bruce Arena said he did not make a decision that both of them would be in the starting line up until one week before the opening match against Portugal. He said they had proved their talent during training camp.

DaMarcus Beasley, an African-American, plays professionally for U.S. Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire, not far from where he grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

He is a midfielder that usually plays on the left side. His nickname is "Jitterbug," for his speed and his dribbling ability. He stands only 173 centimeters and weighs only about 60 kilograms, making him one of the lightest players at this World Cup.

Beasley is one of the so-called "Project 40" players that the U.S. league signed straight out of high school, paying him to forego a college soccer career that is so common in American sports.

"The fact is, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a career out of playing soccer," he says. " And to get where I am now, I think I made the right sacrifice, the sacrifices you have to make at a young age if you can play at that level, and that is what I did. And I do not regret not going to college or anything I have done so far."

Especially now that DaMarcus Beasley has landed on his sport's premier stage, the World Cup.

In addition, along with fellow 20-year-old Landon Donovan and striker Clint Mathis, Beasley found himself on the cover of the widely read U.S. sports publication, ESPN The Magazine.

"That came as a shock to me. But it is a great feeling to be on the cover of a high (popular) magazine such as ESPN," he says. "Not a lot of soccer players get that kind of recognition. And it is good that soccer is starting to get bigger. Soccer is now one of the top sports in the United States and they're supporting us."

After the opening U.S. Soccer team victory over Portugal, Beasley was asked if he was nervous before making his World Cup debut.

"Warming up I had a few butterflies, but when the whistle blew I was ready to play. No nervousness," he says. "I thought I would be nervous coming into the game, but I was not at all, and I felt good out there. It felt like it was a regular game, and I was excited to play."

Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley has a great attitude and accepts whatever role he is assigned. For that reason, he has earned high marks from Coach Arena.

"He is a great kid. I think he knows his place in the team," says Arena. "He knows he is the young guy and he never puts himself in a position where the older guys are saying, 'Who is he?' He knows the pecking order. He has been a tremendous player for us. His speed gives us an added dimension in the attack. And I have said all along - and I do no know if people realize this, he is a terrific defensive player. And that is one area where we do not worry about DeMarcus. Defensively, he is very responsible. He gets in good positions and then when the ball turns over he is great at getting forward and out on the break. And obviously he has done enough on the ball where he has been a threat and other teams have got to be aware of him. They have got to focus attention on him. Off the dribble he can break them (opponents) down running off the ball. He has played very well and he has grown a lot, I think, over the past six months or so." And U.S. goalie Brad Friedel says Beasley's future is bright.

"You can not coach speed, and he has got speed and quickness. You can coach other aspects of his game. And he is hopefully one of those players that is just going to get better and better and better," he says.

But for now, 20-year-old DaMarcus Beasley says he is just thrilled to be playing for the U.S. Soccer team. He told VOA Sports he will enjoy every moment of this World Cup.

"I think it is fun. I think it is great that I have got this opportunity now, because I might not ever get it again, because you never know. People say you can play in three of four World Cups, but you can get hurt," he says. "You know you might not even love the game anymore. So you never know what can happen, so I am just happy I am here and happy I can experience this at this young an age. "