Featured / MLS

Talking with RSL defender Tony Beltran

If you aren’t familiar with how right fullback Tony Beltran plays, think Sheanon Williams. The Real Salt Lake defender took some time to talk to the Philly Soccer Page after Wednesday night’s tough 2–1 road loss to Columbus Crew. You’ll get a chance to see the UCLA product—Kyle Nakazawa played with him there—when the Union hosts RSL on Saturday at PPL Park.

Philly Soccer Page: After the Columbus game, your coach talked about staying compact. Is that something you notice on the field, and how do you make adjustments?

Tony Beltran: How compact you are varies from team to team. We are a possession-oriented team and we like to build from the back. When you get stretched, you might be pushing forward too much and leave space behind. Then you can get counterattacked on and that gets dangerous.

In the end, it’s about communicating. For me as an outside back, whoever is on the right in front of me, we have to work together. Whether it’s closing the ball down on the sideline or helping out, we have to do it together.

PSP: In the modern game, the fullback is such a major part of the offense. How do you approach your role, and how do you know when to step forward?

TB: It really goes back to the system you play. We play a diamond midfield so our outside guys are pinched in and if I see that space up the wing I can take it. But at the end of the day, I’m a defender. That’s my first priority. So I have to make an educated guess and make sure I’m in position if we turn the ball over.

PSP: You hear a lot of talk about defenders getting pinned back. When you are playing, do you feel pinned back, or is it something you only notice later?

TB: Some games you definitely feel like you have more freedom to get forward. Again, it depends a lot on shape and who you are playing. It can be frustrating in the games when you don’t get the ball much. That’s why I play the game, you know? To play with the ball.

PSP: A lot of the Union’s defensive improvement has been attributed to the leadership of Faryd Mondragon. Can a dramatic change in a defense be credited to a goalie? Or is that a myth and the real story is just an in-form back four?

TB: It’s not a myth. Not at all. From my experience with Nick (Rimando), it’s such a reassurance to have the right goalie behind you. Nick is the most gifted goalie I’ve played with, and it gives you confidence to play a step off of someone if you want to, because you know that you can trust Nick to make the save. Nick is so good with his feet, and that gives the team another dimension. And leadership is right. The goalie can see everything, so he has to be a leader and let people know what’s going on.

PSP: When you talk about giving an extra step of space—is that something Nick and the defense talk about before a game, or do you have to get a feel for a guy as things go along?

TB: A bit of both, but more of the former. Luckily, our staff does a great job of scouting and letting us get to know the guys we play against.

PSP: The goalkeeping coach of the Chicago Fire (Aron Hyde) talked about the Union’s high pressure, starting with the strikers. As a defender, having someone like Le Toux running around, does that significantly change the way you play?

TB: High pressure can make it difficult for a defense, but it’s a double-edged sword. A possession team like us, we have to make smart decisions and pass it out of the back. If the other team is not pressuring in a good way, we can still create. I think a lot of teams, unwisely, sit back and let us get into a rhythm. Then they try to hit us on the counterattack.

PSP: Let’s talk about set piece defending. I’m a Liverpool fan and there was controversy a few years ago when the coach instituted a zonal system for corner and set piece defense. The Union have certainly struggled to stop set pieces this year. How do you approach this part of the game?

TB: In my opinion, zonal marking on set pieces isn’t smart. Man to man works better. Really, it comes down to mentality. You can’t be in the box and just hope or say you’ll do your best. You have to say, ‘No way I’m going to let my guy score.’ You can’t think, ‘Whatever, it’s not going to come to my guy.’

PSP: And speaking of set pieces, Kyle Nakazawa has hit some good ones for Philly this year. You played with him at UCLA.

TB: Yeah, Kyle was probably my best friend at UCLA. Honestly, when he came out I was hoping we’d pick him up but it didn’t work out. Maybe that’s a little selfish. I’m glad to see he’s doing well. He works extremely hard and I think he’s earned the starts he’s getting recently.

PSP: He probably would have done well with you guys. He has excelled in more of a top-of-the-diamond role with the Union.

TB: Yeah, and he’s always been technically gifted. In college he even played up top for us a bit. And to be honest, when we were playing together – and this was before college, when we were 13, 14, 15—he was skinny back then. He has worked so hard in the gym, especially in college, to add strength so he can compete in the middle.

PSP: It was great to watch him hold his own against a guy like Larentowicz, no small cookie, last weekend. So going into Philly after a loss, and one in which you give up two goals, what are you thinking about? How do you approach it?

TB: We are a good team and we just need to play our game to be successful. It was a tough loss and you’re right that we don’t normally give up two. And not that Philly isn’t a good team because they are, but we have to play our game and be confident in the way we play.

PSP: What’s the deal with home field advantage in soccer. Is it real?

TB: That’s interesting. I mean, we’re playing on grass and the fields are the same. I think a lot of it is just being comfortable and being able to go through the same pre-game ritual. I think some teams go out and think that they’re on the road so they have to be more cautious. It comes down to style. When we go on the road we just try to play our game.


  1. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Great interview, Adam, very informative.

  2. Definitely an awesome interview. It’s great to hear guys talk tactics. Not just the usual cliche sports interview stuff, but really getting inside what’s happening on the field. But you only get that if you ask smart tactical questions, which you did, Adam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *