Entering his sixth year at the club - 2013 - Tony Beltran was coming off the back of a particularly successful season. He had stepped ably into his first consistent starting role for the club following the departure of the reliable Robbie Russell, playing nearly every match.
It was the strength of that season that saw him called into the US Men's National Team for the MLS-centric January camp in 2013, and by all accounts, he impressed Jurgen Klinsmann with his attitude. He had one shaky performance for the team during that camp, but he did enough to make the Gold Cup squad in the summer. He played at Rio Tinto Stadium with the team, and he did considerably better.
For the first time at RSL, too, Beltran was both the first choice at his position and had somebody pushing him for that spot. Lovel Palmer even won time ahead of Beltran on one or two occasions, but Beltran continued to push back into his starting role.
He had a somewhat weak end to the regular season, but his resurgence once we entered the playoffs was fantastic.
While he may sometimes be slated for his crossing ability (it's not fantastic, but it's not something we excel at as a team), Beltran consistently finds one or two key passes a match - passes that lead directly to a shot. This is a valuable feature that's often ignored about the right back.
When it comes down to it, full backs have a really tough go of it. They're popularly expected to be both an immensely solid defender and a brilliant attacking player, and when you toss in the fact that Real Salt Lake's system necessitates that they play a connective role in the midfield, it becomes evident that they really have a difficult job. Could he have done better in 2013? Certainly. But don't let this distract from what was a strong year for Beltran.
Questions remain, though: Can Beltran push his way into the national team picture after the 2014 World Cup? Can he establish himself as an iconic player at Real Salt Lake? Can he continue his development and win plaudits across MLS? 2014 will be an exciting year for everyone, but for Beltran, it could be a year that defines his career.
Editor's note: This is part of a series of player profiles recapping the 2013 season and previewing the 2014 season. Player ratings were compiled via a vote by RSL Soapbox writers. Statistics are via mlssoccer.com.