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2016 Player Profiles, #10: Tony Beltran

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The consistently capable right back had another good season for RSL.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

At a club with so many veterans, it becomes easy to forget about some players who are more on the periphery.

Javier Morales, for example, finished his tenth season with the club. So did Kyle Beckerman. And that Nick Rimando guy? Yep. Those become the veterans — those figures that are the difference-makers, but also those that, at times, make “The Team is the Star” more than a mantra.

Behind those ‘big stars’ — and I’d argue that the term is more about fan perception than it is anything else — is the steady defensive play of right Tony Beltran.

In soccer, it becomes easy to fetishize the wild attacking full back and the tactical import of one. To such an extent, Beltran often gets dismissed by fans for not being attacking enough, or perhaps for being not proficient enough in the cross.

Of course, that ignores a few important considerations. First, he does get forward well, but he tends to do so at safer moments. He’s less an adventuring full back and more a build-up full back, and frankly, that’s a rare thing that we have gained real value from.

Second, Beltran does have a good cross on him, but RSL has rarely been a side that operates extremely well in the air. At any rate, he had his first three-assist season in the league, up from his usual two or one.

But Beltran’s real value was derived from his interplay with Javier Morales and Juan Manuel Martinez. Building on the right side of the midfield with those two helped progress RSL’s play forward. Of course, another issue exists that hurt RSL’s build-up play, and that’s that often, play would become lopsided, with Plata, Burrito and Morales all leaning on the left side as the season wore on. Add in a decrease in performance from some, and Beltran suddenly looked slightly less impactful.

And that’s the real thing we can learn from 2016 with regard to Tony Beltran. His performance depends on having players to build play with. He’s that sort of full back. He’s not a run-and-gun full back — that’s more the role of Demar Phillips on the left side — and he’s not a purely defensive player, either.

Entering his tenth year with Real Salt Lake, Beltran should continue to develop his ability to truly lead a side. That’s the one thing he’s not yet solved, and it’s certainly not a case of not being able to. In fact, it’s the presence of other veterans that has kept that skillset from really being on full display, whether he’s developed it or not.

With Javier Morales gone, there is an additional risk here. Some of Beltran’s best moments came when he interchanged with the playmaker, helping to open space on the flank, or to draw players from the center and open space there. He’ll never be the flashiest of full backs, but he’ll be the reliable force on the right for the remainder of his career. You can’t overstate the importance of players like that, and with 2017 featuring a host of substantial changes, it’s likely that Beltran will be called upon to help steady a newly shaped roster.

Tony Beltran is now one of the longest tenured players on Real Salt Lake’s roster, and his veteran influence could be one of several things that helps steady the side.