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Talking Tactics: Beckerman, the steady fulcrum for RSL

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Soccer is filled with naval analogies given its history in the British Isles. One of those analogies is equating the squad captain with the skipper of a ship - being synonymous and such. On a ship, while the skipper may lead, you definitely don’t see him doing the dirty work. On the ship otherwise known as RSL, however, all the dirty work starts with the skipper.

Kyle Beckerman has been a work horse and strong foundation for RSL since his arrival in 2007. When the easy going captain pulls back his thickly-roped dreadlocks, resembling something of a peacock’s plume with that one wayward feather (deadlock in his case), he become all business.

Beckerman is RSL’s captain in name and action. He is the one that is on the front-lines for the club, match-in and match-out. Whether he is arguing with the ref, connecting the dots that happen to be payers with his utilitarian passes, or making his presence known to the opposition with a physical tackle, he is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

When the men in Claret-and-Cobalt take the pitch, Beckerman’s presence has become expected – being such an integral part of this squad – but as the man he is, and not a God, despite many people’s beliefs (my own included), he does miss the occasional match or five.

The Claret-and-Cobalt experienced Beckerman’s absence first hand this year with his early season red card and then his Copa America Centenario call-up. But did his absence translate to the club’s overall stats?

As RSL’s go to defensive midfielder, it is conceivable that he would have a rather large impact on overall defensive actions – including blocks, interceptions and clearances. On average in 2016, Beckerman is responsible for four defensive actions per 90 minutes, of which 2.4 are interceptions. Consequently, Beckerman has a tendency to find himself in the right place at the right time to breakup opponents’ offensive plays. This assumption is even supported by the stats. When he is on the pitch for RSL the club records approximately 46 defensive actions per match which is substantially larger than the 38 they average when he is absent.

While Beckerman’s numbers alone do not make up for the difference, it is conceivable that his midfield partner might step up with such a consistent performer by his side. The following sentiment might also explain why the club is more likely to make longer, less accuracy passes – 20 meter passes at 76 percent accuracy, compared to 19 meter passes at 78 percent accuracy without Beckerman.

With Beckerman on the pitch he provides stability in addition to his defensive work rate. Deployed deep in the midfield, he covers vast swaths of ground, cleans up teammates’ messes, and, seemingly without effort, opens up paths for the perfect pass – evident of his consistent 80 percent pass accuracy in 2016 alone.

His consistency with the ball, behind the ball, or even in front of the ball, allows the attackers around him to take chances they might otherwise not take. As a result, Real creates more chances when he is present on the pitch. With Beckerman leading the charge on the pitch, the club creates nine chances on average per 90 minutes – one more than their average without the skipper.

Alternatively, the club’s increased production could also be chalked up to his ability to be that deep-lying playmaker, creating 10 chances thus far in 2016.

More-likely than not, however, during matches Beckerman resends into the shadows of his teammates – he is there, but he is also not there. Mirroring almost a referee, he will get noticed if he has a bad match, but good to great performances go largely unnoticed. Thusly, his partnership in the midfield allows the club to achieve the higher 51 percent successful duel ratio, while he alone maintains a 42 percent margin. In other words, like Beckerman’s solo numbers, the club without their captain only wins 42 percent of duels, but his ability to read the match increases the club’s overall defensive prowess.

To wit: before Beckerman left for Copa America, RSL won 54.5 percent of their regular season matches (6-3-2). The club, however, when 2-2-1 in his absence – winning a mere 40 percent of matches – making Beckerman’s absence painfully obvious.

Against D.C. United, he played in the shadows one again, going unnoticed comparably to the likes of Juan Manuel Martinez who scored the club’s lone goal on the night. Still he needed to be on point ensuring that the squad was able to push forward, yet still being in the right spots to defend when D.C. counter-attacked. Despite the team walking away with only a draw, Beckerman delivered. The skipper completed 56 of his 60 passes, created two chances, and maintained the best possession of the squad, according to Squawka.

Often the unsung hero, Beckerman is indispensable to the Claret-and-Cobalt and will play a vital role in the grueling summer schedule that will see the club play 7 matches in July alone.

With Beckerman back in the fold, expect RSL to continue to work towards tying the club’s highest season points record of 57 (achieved in 2012), despite being on track to draw level with their second best season which was 2013 (56 regular season points). Whatever the case, expect the captain to continue to artfully steer his focus to the team, never about his individual work, as Beckerman is the embodiment of the squad.