After delivering an excellent performance for the San Jose Earthquakes Wednesday night in a must win game, San Jose’s right back Steven Beitashour barely had time to bask in the important 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. The reason: he had to board a plane for Iran.
Prior to the Earthquakes playing this playoff implication match, Beitashour earned a call-up by the Iranian national team to join the squad ahead of their AFC Asian Cup Qualifier on October 15th against Thailand.
Iran, which is coached by Carlos Quieroz of Portugal and Manchester United fame, was one of the first nations to qualify for next summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil and is always a force regionally, winning the Asian Cup 3 times. Presently, Iran’s most recent Asian Cup qualifying matches included a 5-0 demolishing of Lebanon and a 1-1 draw against Kuwait. Now, Team Melli will seek to utilize this MLS standout, to perhaps be included in the side that brings home a fourth Asian triumph. A tough task for Beitashour, but one he is eager to accept.
“I am really excited to go over there and hopefully play well,” said the 26 year old after defeating the Rapids at Bucksahw Stadium.
While this story made waves across MLS, Beitashour was not shocked by his inclusion into Iran’s squad.
“No, not too surprised because I have been talking with them for a couple of year now. It was more of a paper issue getting everything sorted and stuff like that. I was going to get the call a month ago. It was more of a build up and now I am so excited to go play out there.”
Beitashour, a San Jose native, boasts both U.S. and Iranian citizenship. His eligibility to play for Quieroz’s squad was further bolstered by his parents who were both born in the Middle Eastern country. And since he has yet to earn an international cap, this is a great way to gain that milestone.
Beitashour has received two call-ups to Jurgen Klinsmann’s US national team in the past. Both friendly matches against our neighbors: Mexico in August of last year and against Canada this past January. However, Beitashour did not see the field against Mexico and was unable to fulfill his call-up against Canada due to an injury he sustained while training with the USMNT.
It was that injury, a nagging sports hernia, that kept Beitashour sidelined for much of this season which was unfortunate given the remarkable season he had in 2012 en route to San Jose’s Supporters’ Shield triumph. 2 goals, 16 assists and a starting spot on the MLS All-Star team in 2012 all showed signs for a promising MLS career. Now, healthy and back in the squad, Beitashour has been a key component the Quakes’ recent playoff push. But now, as Beitashour shifts his attention to international competition, he knows that this opportunity can help him foster the ultimate dream for any soccer player: a shot at the World Cup.
“You know it’s a great opportunity. The World Cup is a little ways a way, you know I just have to go out there work hard and play as hard as I can. Hopefully, Carlos appreciates the player I am and we will see from there,” exclaimed Beitashour regarding his chances of going to Brazil.
This opportunity is very much a World Cup or bust strategy for Beitashour. Like Iran the U.S. qualified for the World Cup but has not shown keen interest in the defender’s services. If he does play in Tehran’s famous Azadi Stadium next week, he would lose eligibility to play for the USMNT under international rules. Right now, Iran provides Beitashour with his best shot at traveling to Brazil next summer. But don’t expect it to be automatic.
Iran’s current squad is has depth and is talented in lieu of 2014. The right back position in particular is currently being fought by veteran Khosro Heydari and the upstart Hossein Mahini. Two men whose international experience boast 61 caps. But if Beitashour is able to showcase what makes him a dynamic threat in the MLS, particularly his accurate crosses, Quieroz’s eyes will encourage him to take a deeper look.
Regardless of what happens during the game or in the future, Beitashour’s call up brings a sense of pride for the Bay Area’s Persian presence, especially in the South Bay where Beitashour calls home.
Both, Iranians and Iranian-Americans care deeply about soccer and to see one of their own receive an opportunity to play for Team Melli made Beitashour the recipient of much admiration. Admiration, that he was not expecting, “I didn’t think about it too much until I got a lot of messages. A lot of people have said they are proud of me. You know I am proud of my heritage and where I came from so anytime people reach out like that I really appreciate it.”
Beitashour will return to the Quakes in time for their crucial Cali Clasico match against the LA Galaxy on October 20th. While that final road game in “Tehrangeles” is huge for the Quakes’ postseason, Beitashour’s current travels can be monumental for his international career.
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @jermg11.