I don't want to make this article all about me, but I felt a little background was necessary to explain how I wound up playing alongside DaMarcus Beasley.
When I was in 8th grade, my longtime friend Stuart invited me to be on his indoor soccer rec league team. Stuart was a friend since 2nd grade and was one of the better goalkeepers in the state of Indiana and was subsequently friends with many of the best players in the area.
The team Stuart invited me to join was a just-for-fun team that several of the area's best players formed in the off season to stay fresh and have fun in a low-pressure, indoor rec league. I can't recall every player on the team but at least four of them went on to be All-State soccer players (DeMarcus and his brother being two of them), I think five or six played in college (most or all of them, Division I) and two went on to play in the MLS and United States national team (Demarcus [who played for the Chicago Fire, and was the youngest player drafted into the MLS at the time] and his brother). Every single one of those kids was an elite soccer player and they were all pretty good friends.
And then there was me. I was just Stuart's buddy and a warm body to fill out the roster. The only soccer I'd played until that point was in gym class or in Stuart's backyard with his soccer friends. I knew most of the rules, but none of the strategy or lingo. I could run and pass decently enough, but I couldn't beat anyone off the dribble or shoot whatsoever. But no one seemed to mind my soccer deficiencies because the rest of our team was so talented we towered over the teams. It's easy to forgive the kid who's awful when your team is winning by five goals.
The team was so laid-back that I don't really remember us having an adult manager. Sure, one of the guys' dad showed up each game to serve as our legally-required adult supervision, but I don't recall him actually coaching. Instead, we'd just sit near midfield between periods and usually Stuart would do the coaching and report what he observed as the goalkeeper, and if anyone else had any ideas, they were also welcome to speak up. I remember many times we'd have such a big lead that we'd self-impose rules on ourselves to keep the score respectable but also hone our (i.e. their) skills. We'd say no one could shoot unless it was off a pass that was deflected off the back wall (remember his was indoor soccer), or some periods the only allowable shots on goal were headers, or only after 3 passes, etc.
In short, this was the middle school equivalent of a beer league and our team was all ringers + me.
So that's enough background. Here's what I remember about my time playing with DaMarcus, who was two years younger than most of us.
1. He was a really nice and quiet kid. His brother Jamar was our age and he was the bigger, flashier, more swagged-out goal scorer. Given his big brother's electrifying talent, DaMarcus was more like Jamar's little brother who was actually pretty darn good, himself.
2. I scored two goals that season. One was assisted by Jamar, the other by DaMarcus.
For my goal assisted by Jamar he was actually playing goalie, which was funny because he was the most feared striker in Indiana at the time and four years later would go on to set the state high school record for most career goals.
The plan was that Jamar would play goalie in the 4th quarter and with one minute left he'd dribble by every defender and score with time expiring. Sure enough, just like we'd planned, Jamar got the ball with about a minute left and effortlessly evaded each defender before entering the backfield and staring down their goalie, who was rightuflly scared crapless because he knew he was about to get embarrassed by Jamar, just like all of his defenders just had been.
With the wide-eyed goalie 100% focused on avoiding humiliation at the feet of Jamar, Jamar casually passed it to me while I was standing about 2 feet from an open net on the far post. I didn't even kick it in, I just put my foot out and redirected it. I don't blame the goalie for ignoring me, I would have too. Thanks Jamar.
The time DaMarcus assisted me was similar but off of an indirect kick about 30 feet away from their goal after a handball had been called on our opponents. DaMarcus volunteered to take the kick, and before the kick, while the other team was assembling their wall, he called me over and pointed and said, "Stand right there. I'm gonna pass it to you and you're gonna score.". While approaching the ball, the defense's collective sphincter tightened and all feet on deck were devoted to preventing the wildly-talented DaMarcus from scoring.
And they did, but they didn't prevent him from assisting and as a result I was wide open and tapped in, exactly how DaMarcus said it would be. Not many soccer players can say they scored off an assist from a player on their country's national team. But even few players who have no soccer talent can say that, so thank you for the most memorable goal of my life, DaMarcus.
3. His father was unbelievably nice. Being that it was such a casual league, most parents didn't bother show up to the games, but Mr. Beasley (I think his name was Henry, if I recall correctly) showed up to quite a few. What I'll always remember about him was between periods, when Stuart would hold court with the team and go over strategies I didn't understand, using jargon I didn't understand, Mr. Beasley would pull me aside and patiently work with me on the basics. What impressed me the most about his friendly tutorials was simply the kindness he showed.
His two boys were probably the two best soccer players the state has ever produced, and I wasn't even good enough to be able to contribute anything to the team, much less the history of the state. Mr. Beasley easily could have stayed on the sidelines and not cared that one kid on a team of elites sorta sucked, especially when we had a 6 goal lead at halftime. But he'd come out and help me with passes off the walls, or telling me not to leave me feet on defense, or telling me what "mark up" means and how to do it.
He knew I had no future in soccer and the team didn't need me. But he did it anyway just out of generosity and love for the game. I never forgot the humanity he showed me.
4. My most vivid memory of sharing the field with DaMarcus was how easy the game appeared to be for him- both mentally and physically. It was like he was composing classical music in his head from his center-midfield perch and he was the conductor of our soccer symphony. As competitive and awesome as he was, it never looked like he was laboring. He was always at what my favorite basketball coach would call think-speed where other players, though older and also extremely talented, were clearly at full exertion.
DaMarcus would get the ball and keep his head up, looking around, observing, calculating, testing, deciding, waiting- all while effortlessly avoiding woefully outclassed defenders a few years older than him. It reminded me of watching an adult coach playing with first graders- never even entertaining the possibility a defender could steal the ball from him, all while directing traffic and instructing others where to be when necessary.
When we were on offense and a defender would get a foot on the ball, I specifically remember how the ball always always always seemed to bounce right back to DaMarcus. Sure, they tried to clear the ball, but DaMarcus was already there waiting for it.
The game came to him and he just let it flow through him without mucking it up. He was able to think a few steps ahead of everyone, and even though he wasn't the biggest or strongest (I'm not sure if he was faster than his brother, but he was smart and quick enough that he never needed to sprint) he was the most physically gifted. Despite his mild manners, calm style of play and unimposing build, he was always the scariest dude on the field for our opponents.
As a kid I played a lot of sports on a lot of different teams, and I have never share a field of play with an athlete like him.