UNCERTAIN FUTURE
EXTRA TIME
Monday, April 30, 2007
"I'm always small," he says, like a reflex. "Everybody says I'm too small in every league that I play in. They say you're too small for MLS, too small for Holland and the same thing here. It's tough everywhere."

Manchester City's DaMarcus Beasley is standing behind the creaking timbers and rusty joints of Vicarage Road's 1922 Main Stand, looking healthy and relaxed, untroubled by an immediate future that remains vague.

"I have no idea," he says calmly of his job status a month from now. "I would say it's 50/50 to be honest. I haven't spoken to them and they haven't spoken to me, so I have no idea."

Time will tell. Very shortly, the Citizens will have either converted Beasley's season-long loan into a permanent contract, or politely shown him the door at the City of Manchester Stadium. If it is the latter, and he has to find another club during the offseason, it is not a prospect that will faze him.

For after a long goodbye to PSV, the Indiana-born winger is now sure he has dropped anchor in the right place to continue his soccer career.

"I would like to stay at Man City," he says first off, before qualifying his statement. "I would like to stay in England and continue my soccer here, whether that is with Man City or with another club."

Beasley is as refreshingly quick and honest off the field as he is on it, and for the first time in a while seems genuinely happy, striking an optimistic note despite not knowing where he will be kicking balls next season.

Still, the setting, the conversation and the man's demeanor seem slightly surreal. After all, he was arguably the best American soccer player two seasons ago, a league and cup winner in Holland and the only American to have played in a Champions League semifinal.

After making a late run into the US National Team in time for World Cup 2002, the Fort Wayne native's laurels were gilded. Plucked from MLS two years later by perhaps the world's #1 coach, Guus Hiddink, he initially succeeded in the awesome task of replacing Chelsea-bound Dutch star Arjen Robben.

The American's first season at PSV went like a dream: the Farmers won the league and cup double and came within a whisker of the Champions League final. Despite losing to Milan only on away goals, Beasley could content himself with being his club's top scorer in that most prestigious of club competitions.

Having proved he could cut it at the highest level, the law of diminishing returns meant his second year in Holland was less stellar, not helped by a hamstring pull and the arrival of Arouna Koné and Jason Culina in the Eindhoven ranks.

Beasley made 27 appearances in 2005/06, scoring four times, but started on the bench for 10 of those games, while he was subbed out in half of his starts.

His mood visibly began to deteriorate and after a disappointing World Cup in Germany, he bore the brunt of criticism from US fans, who had expected more following his splash in Korea in 2002 and ensuing club success.

Had Brian McBride not strayed offside when Beasley netted against Italy, however, it could have all been so different. The line between success and failure is often paper-thin.

Easter 2007 kick started a rebirth in his Man City fortunes and two goals in three games augured well for being kept on in the summer, but now his chances are wavering again. Starting his fourth game of the month, Beasley limped off the field after 36 minutes at Watford, his hamstring all seized up.

"Finally, these last three or four games I have gotten a chance to play more as a winger, which is what I prefer," he happily admits. "It is tough when you finally get a run and then you have to come off because of an injury, you know."

"It's tough," he repeats. "That is [soccer] sometimes."

When Ronald Koeman arrived at the Philips Stadion in place of Hiddink, Beasley's Dutch days were numbered. He crossed the English Channel and headed north to join Manchester's "other club" on loan, before telling YA this month that 'PSV is a closed book'.

If there are doubts exercising coach Stuart Pearce's mind about making the loan permanent, they may revolve around the old news of Beasley's slight physique - the opposite to "Psycho" Pearce the player, whose tree trunk legs and iron left shoe reduced many a flying winger to a crumpled heap on the touchline.

There is surely no other coach who acts out his playing days from the technical area like Pearce does, and if he still pictures himself charging upfield like a raging bull, or vaporizing silky attackers like Beasley who trespass on his left back realm, one wonders what he made of the featherweight American he selected in that position earlier this season.

"I'm not really a left back, but I'll play anywhere on the field the coach tells me to," says Beasley. "I do what I do and there's nothing that I can't do anywhere and in any league."

"I do more running here and helping out, but apart from that, the physical part of playing here doesn't bother me too much. You get clattered everywhere."

At 5'7", he is not about to beat Peter Crouch to a high cross, and while the game has seen a tendency towards employing bodies that in the words of the Olympic Movement are, 'higher, faster, stronger', soccer is not the NFL and can still accommodate a range of body shapes and sizes.

Garrincha, maybe the greatest winger of them all, was the same height as Beasley, as was Pele. Leaf through the annals of beautiful game and you find some of its most feted players - Maradona, Raymond Kopa, Jimmy Johnstone and Alan Ball - stood shorter than him. Gerd Müller and Gheorge Hagi were barely an inch taller, though all were probably stockier.

The Jitterbug is slight, a will o' the wisp on the wing. But then so is Ryan Giggs, ditto Champions League winner Steve McManaman. Like Beasley, those men made up for it through quick feet and quicker thinking. Just "give him an inch and a yard of grass" as the old soccer phrase goes, and he will do the rest.

Size should not even be a question for a Champions League and double World Cup veteran anyway, but as soon as he pitched up in England, the issue was raised again.

Beasley's City life began slowly, hindered by injuries. Five cameo appearances were all he had to show for his Blues career in 2006, before a trip to West Ham on December 30th silenced the murmurs.

With seven minutes to go and the game headed for a 0-0 tie, the American collected the ball from Georgios Samaras and stepped on the gas, leaving Danny Gabbidon and fellow countryman Jonathan Spector in his wake before stabbing the ball home for a stunning first goal in England.

"It was hard to get into the team because by the middle of the season, when I was finally fit, the team was doing well," recalls Beasley. "Then I was in and out, in different positions - but I'm finally playing in a position where I can help the team and I know what I am capable of."

While his league starts this year remain stuck in single figures (nine), which must be a worry come Pearce's end of season reckoning, at least his strike rate is better than those of the Blues' recognized forwards, Bernardo Corradi and Darius Vassell. Plus, he seems to have hit a hot streak at the right time, despite the current twinge.

Beasley's words certainly hint at less than 100% satisfaction in his current mission, but he does carry the air once more of the ebullient, buzzing youngster from his first season at PSV.

"I just like England," he offers as explanation. "Now I have gotten into it here, I like the style of soccer. It's exciting and it is great for myself, if I play in the right position. I am glad I can finally get into the side and show the club and the fans that I can play soccer."

Off the field too, he seems more content than before.

"Holland was a little bit tough because of the language barrier," he recalls. "I mean they speak English, but you have to learn Dutch a little bit. But England is pretty easy because it is the closest thing we can get to America."

The northwest of the country can be a tough place to settle, however, if you are not used to its gray slate skies and permanent drizzle, but Beasley seems happy there. The presence of a friend and international colleague in the same country makes an added bonus.

"I like Manchester," he admits. "It is a big city, bigger than Eindhoven of course. I live outside the city, so I can do my own thing and enjoy myself. I just chill, play soccer, eat dinner - I am a real easy person. If I have a couple of days off, I come to London to see Cory [Gibbs], who is my best friend."

Another reason to be cheerful is on the international front, with his former Chicago Fire boss Bob Bradley now at the helm of the National Team.

The US head coach sought out Beasley recently in London to inform him he would be enlisted in his nation's summer campaigns, CONCACAF Gold Cup and possibly the Copa America as well.

"We know each other very well," said Beasley, "Peter [Nowak, assistant coach], he knows me and [Mike] Sorber, whom I played with at the Fire, so they pretty much know my personality, my style of soccer and what I can do. It helps when they are behind you and respect what you do."

Some watchers felt Beasley's career was headed on a downward spiral a few months ago, but it could be about to find another gear, despite the short-term uncertainty. At 24, he is far too young to write off.

The weather in England has turned and the player's luck has too it seems, although with three games to go and a nicked hamstring, it may be too late for a Man City contract. For now, he returns to his mantra. "I definitely want to come back to England next season and show I can play in this league and score goals."

It might not happen that way, but he is not about to throw in the towel having found his confidence again. With a pause for thought, Beasley smiles, "There's always next season."
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