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An American in Eindhoven-DeMarcus Beasley
By Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY
As red and white confetti poured from the black sky, DaMarcus Beasley took a swig from a cartoonishly large bottle of champagne.
• An American in ... Eindhoven
"This is by far the best - my first championship as a professional," he said.
As soon as his Dutch soccer club, PSV Eindhoven, clinched the league title after a 3-0 victory Saturday against Vitesse Arnhem, PSV's players were given hats which read "Kampioen." Beasley took a black cap and stylishly ****ed it to the right.
As his teammates teased him about being so American - "Your hat is wrong," a few said - they tried to straighten Beasley's bill.
Beasley, 22, is one of the USA's leading exports in his first year abroad in the Netherlands' top professional league. Tuesday he is expected to become the first American to play in the semifinals of the Champions League, Europe's premier club tournament. PSV Eindhoven meets Italian power AC Milan at San Siro Stadium, one of the sport's grand cathedrals. (Related item: Other Americans in Champions League)
Beasley, a forward who has started in more than half of PSV's games, leads his team with four goals in 12 Champions League games and is his club's third-leading scorer overall with 12 goals in 42 games. Almost seamlessly, the Fort Wayne, Ind., native has quickly fit in with a culture (and a couture) markedly different from his own.
"The thing about DaMarcus that I continually find so remarkable is he's never intimidated by the setting, and that's always been one of the qualities that separates him from so many of our players, including our veterans as well," U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena says.
"For every player, even the most accomplished, when they go to a new environment, it takes some time to adjust. That was the case with DaMarcus. But obviously his learning curve is a lot shorter than most people. It won't be surprising to see him move forward and probably have a long career in Europe and play with an even bigger club at some point."
Last summer, when Beasley first arrived in Eindhoven, the country's fifth-largest city but more of a sleepy suburb in south Netherlands, PSV captain Mark van Bommel quickly came up with a nickname for the young American: "McDonald's."
In the USA, he's known as "Beas." In the Netherlands, he's a burger.
"They call me McDonald's because they think that all Americans eat is McDonald's. Then they'll call me 'Hamburger,' too. If I'm going to eat, they'll be like, 'Beasley, where you going to eat - McDonald's?' " Beasley says with a laugh.
Beasley, who is French-fry skinny, prefers large steaks at his favorite local joint, Rodeo. "He's really American," says van Bommel, who is really Dutch.
His fashion sense - urban chic meets baggy sweats - also sets Beasley apart from his teammates. "They wear very tight clothes, tight jeans. It's ridiculous," said Beasley, who is 5-7, 125. "My pants are not big-big, but something I can move around in."
"He wears clothes my size," said PSV's Brazilian goalkeeper Gomes, 55 pounds heavier and eight inches taller.
Even so, Beasley has found that life in Eindhoven fits just fine, despite the lack of big-city excitement, the abundance of men in tight jeans, the techno music in clubs instead of hip-hop and the mayonnaise slathered on everything from tacos to fries.
Just about everyone in the Netherlands speaks English. But Beasley, with a few teammates, takes Dutch lessons at PSV's training facility.
"It's hilarious in class because I'm in there with Brazilians and a Peruvian, and them trying to speak Dutch is worse than me," Beasley says.
Indiana-born, but soccer chosen
The pace is certainly slower than his life in Chicago, where he spent the previous five seasons playing for the Fire. (He signed with Major League Soccer as a 16-year-old in 1999.) Eindhoven has a strip of pubs, a modern arts museum and two Philips museums devoted to the electronics giant, which was founded here.
"There's not much else, not much to do, to tell you the truth," Beasley says. Except play soccer.
"That's why my mom likes Eindhoven so much," says Beasley, who lives a few blocks from PSV's stadium, in a boxy, brown apartment building teeming with senior citizens. "She knows how I like to have fun, and she knows what's good for me."
Eindhoven is not unlike his hometown of Fort Wayne.
"Fort Wayne is a big suburb, a nice place to raise a family, quiet, friendly - like Eindhoven," Beasley says.
Both places are also known for producing practical products that modernized the world. Fort Wayne manufactured the first washing machines, TV sets and refrigerators. In Eindhoven, two brothers named Philips set up a company in 1891 to make "incandescent lamps," otherwise known as light bulbs.
Beasley's parents, Joetta and Henry, who work for a company that makes axels and other automotive parts, spend their free time watching their two soccer-playing sons, whether it be via the Dutch broadcast on the Internet or from the stands.
Their next trip to the Netherlands will be in mid-May, but their commute to see their 25-year-old son, Jamar, who plays for the Kansas City Comets of the Major Indoor Soccer League, is much easier.
The boys started playing soccer after their father, unfamiliar with the sport, brought home a soccer ball when DaMarcus was about 5. Soon the Beasleys were hooked. Their friends didn't quite get it, though.
"They asked, 'Why are you playing soccer? You should be playing basketball or football. Soccer is a girl's sport,' " Beasley said. "I got that all the time. But that's what I liked to play. It was fun and we were good at it."
Most kids from the Hoosier state idolized Larry Bird, but Beasley fancied "Les Bleus," the French national team, specifically Michel Platini. His brother was fascinated with Pele. Their mom bought them highlight tapes of their favorite players and they got immersed in European soccer.
"It was never America. It was always Europe because that's where real soccer is played," Beasley says. "There's so much passion, so much love for the sport. Here people have PSV tattoos on their chest and arms and necks. You'll never see that in MLS - ever.
"A person who has a Chicago Fire tattoo? Here they cry and they can't function when we lose. It will mess up somebody's day. It's so deep in their blood growing up with their club. That's what I wanted to be a part of."
Facing down prejudice
Of course, the world's most popular sport is not without its problems.
In his first Eindhoven game, a Champions League qualifier against Red Star Belgrade in Serbia and Montenegro last August, Beasley, who is African-American, was rudely welcomed to European soccer.
"Whenever I got the ball they would whistle, boo and make monkey noises. That was my first real racism experience," Beasley says. "I tried to block it out of my head and play. You have 65,000 people screaming at you and it's only you. It's crazy."
On the road in the Netherlands, Beasley faces similar treatment at times.
"I don't understand it because the fans of the teams that do it also have black players," he says.
"A lot of good black players don't want to play in some countries because racism is so bad. Spain is bad, Italy is bad. Holland isn't so bad. Fans should judge (a player) on how he does on the field and not the color of his skin."
On the field, Beasley's play has been worthy of cheers.
"This is quite an achievement for him," PSV coach Guus Hiddink, a Dutch legend who also guided South Korea to the 2002 World Cup semifinals, says about the significance of Beasley becoming the first American to play in the Champions League semifinals. "We are very happy with his performances."
Playing on the left or right wing, Beasley has further developed his attacking skills, scoring almost as many goals this season as he did in his entire MLS tenure.
PSV, which launched the careers of Ronaldo and Romario, has built its reputation by buying young players relatively inexpensively (paying MLS $2.5 million for Beasley) and then selling them for a profit to bigger clubs in England, Italy or Spain.
"I think for youngsters coming into Europe, like Beasley, that PSV is a main gate to be successful - at PSV and also later on for other clubs," Hiddink says. "We have proven it with Romario and Ronaldo that this is the ideal club to develop."
Saturday night, when PSV won its 18th league title, 100-year-old Frits Philips, the son of one of the company's founders, was in the stands. As the team celebrated, van Bommel took the silver championship shield over to Philips and wrapped a championship scarf around his neck.
The passion of the Dutch fans, which attracted Beasley to European soccer, could be felt from the start.
Before Beasley stood at midfield for the opening kickoff, Tina Turner's Simply the Best, the club slogan, was blasted over the loudspeakers. Most fans stood throughout the game. The only empty seats among the 36,000 were many of the 1,600 designated for visiting fans, a section fenced off from the rest of the stadium.
Throughout the game, PSV's fans sang songs - "We love you PSV, yes we do" - about their team and their beloved players. When the home team went ahead 2-0, their fans chanted, "Are you watching Amsterdam?" taunting their rival, Ajax of Amsterdam.
When the game ended, the party began. Gallons of red and white confetti were shot from cannons. A popular Dutch singer took the microphone and belted out drinking songs. "It's raining beer," one went. "There's only one thing to do. Just drink it!"
Beasley, who started and played all 90 minutes, danced to the unfamiliar tunes but added his style. The hat ****ed to the side. The shorts dangling near his skinny knees. An American playing soccer in Europe, a European football player who's an American. He fits in just fine.
As he stood on the championship platform, he scanned the delirious crowd, grabbed that enormous bottle of champagne and did exactly what the song said. He drank it all in.