Real Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran took a big step forward recently, when he made an appearance with the United States national team.
He's looking to take another long stride with Real Salt Lake.
The California native, who is entering his sixth season in the MLS, was part of the national team's recent three-week camp. On Jan. 29, in his U.S. debut, Beltran started and played the first 45 minutes in a 0-0 draw with Canada in Houston.
"It was fantastic," Beltran said. "It was so much fun. What an honor to be called up. And to train with my peers throughout the league - it was mostly an MLS-based group - for a three-week duration at such a high level was a great way to start out the year for me, personally and professionally. It was a big confidence booster.
"I'm going to take what I learned there and roll right into the regular season, so I can help out RSL."
Right now, Real Salt Lake's back line can really use his help. The club traded Jamison Olave to New York in December, lost Nat Borchers to quadriceps surgery and is without the services of Chris Wingert, who is out with a broken foot.
The three, along with Beltran, made up a formidable force on defense that helped the club to four straight playoff appearances and the 2009 MLS Cup.
With that group, Beltran didn't need to be the leader. Now, coach Jason Kreis is expecting the 25-year-old to take on that role.
"That's been very clearly defined," Kreis said. "That is the next step he needs to take, to no longer be a passenger out there for us on the right back who adds some things in sprinkles in the game.
"He's got to be somebody that's leading and communicating and talking with the center back because he'll have two years-plus experience on his center back, and he'll have several years experience on the guy in front of him in midfield as well. So he's got to take that and extend his development."
That development continues Wednesday, when Real Salt Lake faces the New England Revolution at 5 p.m. in the opening match of the third Desert Diamond Cup doubleheader at Kino Stadium.
"This is coming up on my sixth year in the league, and the fact that we did lose some veteran guys last year, it's time for me to complete the transition from young guy to veteran," Beltran said after a recent practice at Kino Sports Complex.
"To help the young guys along and take more of a leadership role on and off the field.
"I think that's going to be big for me - to stamp my personality through my play and how I carry myself as a professional. So it's a big year for that."
• What: Desert Diamond Cup
• When: Wednesday: Real Salt Lake vs. New England Revolution, 5 p.m.; Seattle Sounders FC vs. New York Red Bulls, 7 p.m.
• Where: Kino Stadium