Tony Beltran's 97 minutes on the bench: The right back has the world ahead of him

James Bosworth

For 97 minutes, Tony Beltran was a substitute for Real Salt Lake, having spent the rest of the season as a sure-starter when available.

When he came into Wednesday's match against Chivas USA, it was because Lovel Palmer, his brief replacement in the starting lineup, had fallen to injury, perhaps to his hamstring.

And so it was that the benching of Tony Beltran came to an end.

Jason Kreis said of the situation: "I think that Tony had gone through a spell where he didn't really look like himself. I thought he needed a break and you couple that with the fact that Lovel Palmer has been playing very, very well for quite a few weeks and it felt like the right move."

It's hard to argue with that. From the excellent win over Vancouver just prior to the US Open Cup final (sigh) forward, Palmer had been one of our more in-form players, doing the right things and generally looking an efficient, effective full back. He'd played in place of Chris Wingert at left back and for Beltran and right back, and on either side, he looked more than capable. A long shout from his form at Portland which won him few fans (though one suspects he became an interminable scapegoat for Timbers supporters) surely justified his rise.

Again, Kreis: "It's a credit to Lovel Palmer and the work that he does. It's a credit to the team philosophy that when changes need to be made that we need to all be willing to make sacrifices and understand that sometimes it's not always going to be 'my moment.'"

It's that philosophy that defines us, obviously, that surely didn't make it an easier thing for Beltran. For the first time since he became our first-choice starting right back following the departure of Robbie Russell at the end of 2011, Beltran is contending for minutes - 2012 saw no backup right back on the roster, save for a few months with Terukazu Tanaka. Palmer's arrival came in a period of increased depth for the club, and with it, everyone's job was rendered that much difficult. One might argue that it's paid dividends.

Beltran's surely got his spot back for the playoffs now, with Palmer in some doubt through injury. But when his opportunity came up again, he performed well.

He may get caught on the occasional counter - and I say occasional because it's not a frequent thing - but to blame him for this is to ignore some fundamental aspects of our attacking mindset. To distill it down is fairly easy: We allow ourselves to get caught on the occasional counter because we are consistently pushing our defense toward the midfield line. Speedy attacking players are given opportunities, then, to break at pace, and if our offside trap isn't working perfectly, we're going to find ourselves lacking. This has been the problem more than anyone's recovery abilities. Beltran, as part of the back line, shoulders some blame, but it is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution. Or perhaps a player with the recovery speed of Jamison Olave on the right flank, but that seems unlikely.

Still, Beltran had visibly dipped a bit. His control was missing a bit, he was hesitant, and he just didn't look like his normal self. When he came into the Chivas match - cold, knowing he wouldn't be starting, and stepping in after the pace had been set - he struggled alongside the team. Beltran is not yet a steadying force, though perhaps someday he will be. He, along with the team - a theme, perhaps? - picked up considerably in the second half, despite the conceded goal.

A spot on the U.S. National Team may be in front of him - not quite in range to grab, but close enough to get a good look at - and if he makes the right decisions, and if he continues to develop at the pace he's displayed through his RSL career, he could find himself planting himself firmly in US coach Jurgen Klinsmann's mind. But for now, he'll need to continue focus on his club and his personal form.

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