2017 hasn’t been Tony Beltran’s year. Not entirely, at least.
He was kept out of contention for a substantial period after a back injury, and as it transpired, he played in Jeff Cassar’s last match before missing 10 consecutive matches. It wasn’t until late May that he played his first match under coach Mike Petke, and even then, it wasn’t like he was able to make an immediate impact. RSL suffered two miserable losses inside Beltran’s first three matches back.
But assigning blame to Beltran for those would be simply unfair. What we saw after that period was an extremely motivated Beltran, perhaps making up for lost time. From that point, too, we saw a reformed Salt Lake team, responding well to its new coach.
But while we can talk about Beltran’s season being defined by those two things — injury and recovery — we’d be missing one huge thing, even if we were right to focus where we did. See, in his 10th year in Major League Soccer, this happened.
That’s Mr. Tony Beltran’s first Major League Soccer goal, and it was absolutely glorious. The way he took the ball down and immediately took it inside with a smooth touch. And his finish? Oh, was that ever good.
Of course, his season can’t just be defined by a goal in a 3-2 loss. It can’t be defined by recovery. It can’t even really be defined by a late playoff push.
Unfortunately, it has to be defined by injuries. It’s not just one injury, either: it’s two.
There was the first injury, which kept him out for 10 games. But then there’s the second injury, sustained at the very end of the season, that will keep him out for a whole lot more. His recovery from that injury could see him back in August at the earliest projection. That’s a bitter blow for a player that has continued to be one of the most impactful players on the team, year after year. He’s been a steady force, and one awful moment will keep him from doing that in 2018. It opens a big series of questions for the team, and those questions could have a lasting impact on his career.
Beltran’s role in 2018 will turn back to that steady force, if not on the field. He’ll need to be a big player in the locker room, because realistically, he’ll be one of three or four veteran players on the team that have seen Real Salt Lake in nearly all its incarnations. He’ll need to continue helping the young players along as they establish their footing on the team and in the league.
What’s next for Beltran will largely depend on how he recovers from injury. Given he’s the consummate employee in many ways — he consistently works hard at everything he does — I’m betting that he has a chance to come back a strong player. It’ll take a lot of hard work, and there’s plenty of uncertainty there.