I not only loved The Lord of the Rings Triology, but I have read the books multiple times (although for some reason I can't find my copies and should be getting new ones for my kids to read). Everyone seems to have their favorite characters: Frodo, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf. Whatever. You can keep all of them (and they are good characters don't misunderstand me.)
My favorite character in the books and in the movies is Samwise Gamgee. Sam has one job and one job only--help Frodo dispose of the Ring. Nothing more, nothing less. But what makes Sam so appealing to me is that he is a hobbit who is unwaveringly devoted to his friend, to doing what must be done to help his friend achieve the mission. Sam knows what his role is and, most importantly what his limits are. He is not a strong leader like Aragorn or a warrior like Legolas or Gimli. Sam is the staff upon which Frodo leans when the quest gets rough. Sam is the hobbit who, quite literally carries Frodo at times to make sure the quest is completed. But Sam doesn't put on airs. Sam wants to do his job and go home. He doesn't seek glory, he doesn't want anything more than to help his friends accomplish the mission and then return to the Shire and all the fanfare is not necessary.
In truth, I have always liked those kinds of characters in stories and movies. I like the guys who work behind the scenes, who provide the support necessary to make the lead characters succeed. The best ones do it because they know who they are, are comfortable with themselves and don't need the accolades and fanfare, they just go quietly about their work and the do it well.
Which brings me to Kyle Beckerman and the U.S. Men's National Team. I have no clue about Beckerman's acting skills. But I have always liked the dreadlocked one, and I think he has been vastly underrated for years.
Kyle Beckerman is the USMNT's Samwise Gamgee.
The Shinguardian's John Nyen has a wonderful piece entitled Constants, Variables & Dreadlocks In Orbit Around Planet Klinsmann. (By the way, if you are not subscribed to or reading the Shinguardian, you are missing out on some quality writing). Nyen talks of constants and variables in the USMNT. Some of the constants are familiar and well-founded, players like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Steve Cherundolo and Carolos Bocanegra. Some constants may be a little less solid--Timmy Chandler and Jozy Altidore--players who are good players but still learning to fill their roles. Then there is the constant presences of Kyle Beckerman, a man who has been consistent in his performance, and as a result is consistently in Klinsmann's starting eleven, even though there are more individually talented players available. It is Beckerman the leaves some people scratching their heads.
What impressed me most about Nyen's piece was the analysis of Kyle Beckerman. In a recent interview with Brian Straus in the Sporting News, (an outstanding read as well) USMNT Coach Jurgen Klinsman said the following about team selection:
My job is to develop a team that works hand-in-hand, that covers its weaknesses and expresses its strengths. There might be some decision where the fan says, “I don’t get that,” but hopefully over time they will understand why I’m doing certain things.Some may say, “Why is there a Kyle Beckerman right now occupying the No. 6 (defensive midfielder) role, when we have Jermaine Jones playing for Schalke or Michael (Bradley) in Verona and they’re really good players?”Right now, what I tell (Beckerman) to do, he’s doing it 100 percent.
Nyen then analyzes that means. Beckerman has been a constant in Klinsmann's set up and he made clear why. Beckerman does exactly what Klinsmann wants--Beckerman is a good player who follows instructions. Beckerman knows what his job is and does it well.
This is not saying that Beckerman is the future at DM or that he will be playing in the 2014 World Cup–both probably shouldn’t be expected.What Klinsmann is saying is, “You want to be the #6. See this guy ahead of you? You may be better than him, but he’s doing it the right way. Watch what he’s doing and if you can grasp it, you’ll get your shot.”Beckerman is a known value, and that he executes exactly what Klinsmann asks. He isn’t going to be making 50 yard runs down field and running willy-nilly into the box for a header. He will be cautious, intercept passes, break up plays and be where he is supposed to be most of the time.
Therein lies the difference. Beckerman may not be the fastest players, the strongest player, the best passer, attacker or dribbler. I suspect that Beckerman may even be the first to tell you that. But, like Samwise Gamgee, Beckerman brings no special skills to the table other than an unwavering desire to make the team succeed, a willingness to do the dirty work and provide the unheralded support work that a defensive midfielder must do to enable his team to succeed. The fact that he does the job exactly the way Klinsmann wants the job done is the sign of a true professional and the reason why Beckerman keeps featuring for Klinsmann. Kyle Beckerman is steady, dependable and true---he is Samwise Gamgee.
Beckerman is doing the job and is a constant in the midfield which has allowed Klinsmann to shift players around in the midfield, whether that is a 3, 4 or 5 man midfield to find other combinations that work. Klinsmann can experiment elsewhere because he knows that his "Sam" will be steady, solidly performing Kyle Beckerman.
Beckerman is being held out as an example of what perhaps more skilled players like Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones or Maurice Edu need to do. Follow directions, break up the play, slow down the counter and do the dirty work that is necessary of a defensive midfielder.
Soccer is an 11 player team sport. The Fellowship of the Ring was a team effort. Like the Fellowship, each player on the pitch has a role and not everyone can be the headline grabbing star. For a team to succeed greatly, it needs players to each play their role properly. Sometimes it needs a Samwise Gamgee to provide the quiet, unheralded support from which the team gets its strength.
Jurgen Klinsmann has found his Samwise Gamgee, a humble dreadlocked hobbit, in Kyle Beckerman.