Tony Beltran is, to a large extent, one of the more underrated players in MLS. Perhaps this is because a poor performance for the national team put some in a mindset that he was actually a poor player, but those people are rarely the ones paying attention to Real Salt Lake on a weekly basis.
A poor performance against LA Galaxy to end the season, too, sits heavy in our minds. But when we weight that with the fact that everybody was poor, especially the midfield, we can see that blaming any one or two players is a bit nonsensical.
And so let's get back to talking about Tony Beltran's season, because it was actually very good. Tactically, he was pushed forward with more frequency, which could have exposed us more at the back. To my reckoning, it didn't really. We also played our full backs more centrally in attack sometimes, which is a general trend across the soccer world - and that, too, didn't leave us more exposed. In fact, RSL conceded fewer goals than in 2013, which doesn't necessarily speak to Beltran's impact, but it does say something.
We often are treated to complaints about Beltran's crossing, and frankly, it's not his greatest attribute. He's not an accomplished crosser, and he's probably never going to be. He turned 27 this year, and it's hard to get those sorts of things ingrained at a late age. But for all his crossing woes, it's something that's generally not what we focus on at Real Salt Lake. When we do particularly well with it, it's more coming from our midfielders taking up wider positions - and in those cases, you could argue there are tactical causes, too. In general, we tend to be a side that tries to attack on the ground, and our best attacks come from either corner.
Beltran is an essential part of that attacking play. His combination play on the right side - particularly with Javier Morales and Luke Mulholland - was a key part of our attacking play in 2013. While it's harder to quantify "combination play" than it is the final pass, watching Beltran play week-in, week-out showed an important understanding among the team. While we could attribute that with Morales to many years of playing together, we don't get to take the easy route with Beltran and Mulholland. We might surmise that it's built on good understandings all around, but it's probably more down to strong tactical play.
He'll be entering his eighth year at Real Salt Lake in 2015 - eight years at his only professional team, and maybe he has a chance to be one of those one-team players that are so rare in MLS. As we look forward to Beltran next year, we can hope for an increase in assists and perhaps his first MLS goal, but continued defensive development and a return of some of the best one-on-one defending in the league would probably be sufficient.
Editor's note: This is part of a series of player profiles recapping the 2014 season and previewing the 2015 season. Player ratings were compiled via a vote by RSL Soapbox writers. Statistics are via mlssoccer.com.