Brazil bound: A comprehensive look at Steven Beitashour's journey to the 2014 FIFA World Cup

How a chip on Beitashour's shoulder carried him to the World Cup

Beitashour closeup - black and white

Photo Credit: 
Farhan Devji/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

VANCOUVER, BC – Some say the journey to the FIFA World Cup is almost as memorable as the tournament itself. That might be a slight exaggeration, considering the magnitude of the event and the fanfare that surrounds it.

After all, it’s the biggest single-event sporting competition in the world. 

But talk to anyone who has played in a World Cup and chances are, at one point or another, they’ll cite the journey – whether it’s the qualification stage, their first call-up to the national team, or any other moment that led to that point. 

For Vancouver Whitecaps FC defender Steven Beitashour, who is set to represent Iran at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, it’s a journey defined by perseverance.

There was a time Beitashour wasn’t sure he’d ever play collegiate soccer, let alone professionally or on the world’s biggest stage.

So how did he get to where he is today?

EARLY DAYS

Beitashour’s story begins in San Jose, California, where his parents had settled after emigrating from their native Iran. His father, Edward, and mother, Pari, met and married in Iran before moving to North America in the 1960s.

Edward came over first to study electrical engineering at San Francisco State, where he also played soccer for the Gators, and Pari followed suit not long after. Eventually, Edward went on to work for Apple as one of the company’s technical engineers, alongside the likes of Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniack and John Sculley.

“He lived all that,” said Beitashour, who is unsurprisingly an iPhone owner. “I didn’t think anything of it back then. Now, I’m like, ‘Wow it’s amazing that happened.”

Even though he wasn’t exactly enamored by his old man’s job at the time, Beitashour always looked up to his parents – as most kids do. They are his role models. And to this day, everything he does is “because of them.”

“The way I treat others is because they taught me to treat others that way, to be respectful and kind,” Beitashour said. “Same thing on the soccer field. I just try to work hard because they instilled that into me. Nothing is going to come easy and you have to work for what you want.”

As Beitashour would realize later on in life, those words couldn’t have been any truer.

From left to right: Steven's dad Edward, Steven's older sister Tina, Steven, and Steven's mother Pari. 

Both of Beitashour’s parents were born in Iran, but Edward is an Assyrian and Pari is a Persian. Beitashour said his mom always spoke to him in Farsi, and still does, which is how he became more or less fluent in the language. He even has an Iranian name, “Mehrdad.”

Growing up, the Beitashours celebrated traditions from both cultures, including the 13 days of festivities associated with the Persian New Year.

“It was the best of both worlds,” said Beitashour, who visited Iran twice as a young child. “We celebrated pretty much everything.”

Despite the fact that he was born in the United States to “traditional” Iranian parents, Beitashour said the traditions or lifestyle never seemed “weird or different.” Most of his close friends were either Persian or Assyrian, anyway. It was all he knew.

It was all his siblings knew, too.

Beitashour has an older brother, Tony, and two sisters, Tina and Stephanie. Tina, who now works at a hospital in San Jose, is the oldest of the bunch – followed by Tony, who works in real estate in Los Angeles “with all the other Persians,” Beitashour said jokingly. 

Beitashour, who turned 27 in February, is the second youngest after Stephanie.

“My little one is in college … I say 'my little one' like she’s mine,” Beitashour laughed. “She was very athletic. We joke around about how we’re all fast in the Beitashour family. My cousin ran track at Cal, but my little sister was probably the fastest one. We wish she played soccer. She’s left-footed too. She would have been a great winger, but she never played.”

Neither did Tina, but Steven and his brother both did – quite often, at that. They even had a mini field set up in their backyard, where they regularly hosted tournaments with friends. It was a popular place to be, even though the two goals were made out of PVC pipes.

“We taped them together and then put nets on them to make a nice little 3 vs. 3 goal,” Beitashour recalled. “Then we had big goals behind them, so we could work on shooting and stuff … also to save the fence from being further destroyed than it already was.”

Beitashour said it was his father’s passion for the game that initially drew him in, but once he started playing, he “loved everything about it.” It didn’t hurt that he was pretty good at it, too.

His first memory of playing soccer in a team environment was a training session with the Almaden Valley Broncos – a recreational youth club in the neighbourhood. Beitashour even remembers the first drill: the coach had the players pick up the ball, drop it on their knee, and then try to catch it.

“I was looking around, everybody was hitting the ball and it was flying around everywhere,” said Beitashour, whose favourite player growing up was the Brazilian Ronaldo. “They couldn’t catch it. And I was doing it like three or four times. So I kind of knew I had a shot.”

It didn’t take his big brother, Tony, long to realize that as well.

When Beitashour was about eight years old, he started to play on Tony’s team. Beitashour was three years younger than everyone else, but it sure didn’t look that way.

Steven Beitashour, pictured above. played his youth soccer in San Jose's Almaden Valley neighbourhood. 

“He pretty much just schooled everyone,” said Tony, adding that Beitashour was a mischievous kid growing up. “Everyone was shocked. I remember thinking, ‘Why is my little brother this good? Why is my litter brother better than me?’ But then I noticed he was better than my friends too so that made me feel better about it. He was really talented.”

So he kept playing. And before he knew it, he was involved in a Major League Soccer match – just not in the way you might think.

Beitashour was a ballboy for MLS side San Jose Clash (now known as the Earthquakes). In fact, at the age of nine, he got to walk out with the Clash in the first-ever MLS match, which took place on April 6, 1996 at Spartan Stadium.

And the home crowd of 31,683 went home happy, as they saw San Jose emerge victorious 1-0 on the strength of an Eric Wynalda goal – the first in MLS history.

At the time, Beitashour said he had no idea how significant that game was. His most vivid memory at a Clash match was actually one against New York MetroStars (now the Red Bulls). On that day, his team got to play a short game at halftime. And there was an interaction he had during the game with former MetroStars goalkeeper Tony Meola that still sticks out in his mind.

“It was a corner kick for us and I was on the far post,” Beitashour recalled. “I was talking to him and I was so excited to see him. I remember he said, ‘You guys have a corner, you better pay attention.’ I said, ‘He can’t kick this far anyway don’t worry.’ I mean, it didn’t even get close to the far post. So I was just talking to him and he was getting a kick out of it. I thought it was so cool. That was my first memory.”

There would be many more.

MASTERING HIS CRAFT

Beitashour attended Leland High School, a public school located in San Jose’s Almaden Valley. And, not surprisingly, soccer is one of the first things that comes to mind when looking back on his time there – as well as the fact that it’s at Leland where he met and started dating his wife, Karlie.

A two-time offensive player of the year with the Leland Chargers, Beitashour led the team in goals in his final two seasons. He was also one of their top assist-getters over his four years at the school.

“I always enjoyed getting assists,” said Beitashour, who was a central attacking midfielder at the time. “The joy I give to other people when they score … I just get a good feeling from that.”

It wasn’t all soccer, all the time, however. 

He also took his studies seriously. Not only was that something his parents believed was important, it was something Beitashour knew he needed to do if he wanted to go to college.

So he focused as much on getting good grades and he did playing soccer – and it paid off.

In his graduating year at Leland, Beitashour won the inaugural Pat Tillman award, given to a Bay Area student for outstanding achievements in both athletics and academics.

Tillman, who also attended Leland, was an NFL player who left his professional career and enlisted in the U.S. army following the September 11 attacks. He was killed in combat after just two years of service.

“This guy had a multi-million dollar offer, and he says I’m going to go serve my country instead,” Beitashour said. “Who would do that? If you give that option to a million people, you might have a handful, maybe less, that would do what he did. It’s just something that people should be proud of. He’s truly a role model.”

Tillman, who led Leland’s football team to a Central Coast Division I Football Championship before earning a football scholarship at Arizona State University, was the first athlete to have his number retired at Leland.

And in January of this year, Beitashour became the second. How’s that for company?

Footage from Beitashour's jersey retirement ceremony (courtesy of Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area).

“When they first called about that, I was shocked,” said Beitashour, who wore number 3 at Leland. “I thought it was a joke. But then they said we’re 100 per cent serious, so I was just honoured and very grateful. But I’m still shocked. I’m surprised they didn’t go back on it.”

Though Beitashour’s four years at Leland were filled with accolades, none of the big college schools came calling. He had offers from Notre Dame de Namur, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and San Jose State, but he had his sights set higher.

Particularly, Beitashour had his eye on a Pacific-10 (now Pacific-12) Conference school, such as the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, or the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – knowing those schools received the most exposure from professional teams.

“At first, I was actually encouraged that Notre Dame de Namur wanted me,” he said. “It opened up my eyes and that’s when I started reaching out to other schools, which was obviously too late by then. But in my mind, I still thought that they could at least give me a chance. It was a little discouraging when they didn’t.”

Fortunately, Beitashour had a big fan in his high school coach Dave Gold – a well-connected man in the local soccer circles. And one of Gold’s former players in the old U-23 Olympic Development Program was Lev Kirshner, who later became the head coach at San Diego State University.

Kirshner and Gold maintained a good relationship over the years. And in 2004, the year before Beitashour graduated from high school, Kirshner recruited Leland midfielder David Dally to join his San Diego State Aztecs program.

Then, Gold put in a call to Kirshner the following year recommending another one of his players.

“He said, ‘If you like this kid, you’re going to love Steven Beitashour,’” Kirshner told whitecapsfc.com. “So I made a special trip, not expecting much at all. If it worked out, it worked out. If it didn’t, it didn’t.”

To say it worked out would be an understatement.

Kirshner watched two of Beitashour’s club games. He scored a goal in one of them and picked up a “wonder assist” in the other. The assist, in particular, caught Kirshner’s eye.

“He collected the ball into the middle of the park, had a little combination that got him a bit wide, beat a player and made him stand like he was a cone, got to an end line, pulled it back, and then set up his teammate for a goal,” Kirshner recalled. “I was like, ‘OK, this kid is not costing me anything.’ Just from that one play alone, if I’m getting this kid for free, I’ll take him.”

As Kirschner alluded to, San Diego State didn’t have any scholarship budget remaining at that point. So Beitashour was offered to join the team as a “recruited walk-on,” a student athlete invited to a program without receiving any financial aid.

San Diego State wasn’t one of the typical soccer powerhouses, but they competed in the Pac-10 Conference against many of the top teams, so Beitashour didn’t have to think twice.

“I said yes, because I wanted to play against UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford to show them what they missed out on,” said Beitashour, who eventually received a scholarship after his freshman year. “I just had that little chip on my shoulder to work hard and show them that they should have at least given me a chance.”

Beitashour went on to spend five years with the Aztecs, though he redshirted his freshman year in 2005. During that freshman year, Kirshner started to realize that Beitashour might be more effective as a winger or outside back – he had always played in a number 10 attacking midfield position prior to that.

There were a few different reasons for that, according to Kirshner. For starters, Beitashour’s speed was going to waste in the middle of the park. But even more so, Kirshner felt that one of Beitashour’s biggest strengths was his one-on-one defending ability. 

As an outside back, Beitashour could still provide an attacking threat – in fact, Kirshner said he tactically changed the team’s playing style to allow Beitashour and the other fullback to get forward. But at the same time, he could play an important role in shutting down the opposition’s attack. 

“He just brought more to the game,” Kirshner said. “Ultimately, he could have been a really effective player for us in attacking roles, but he provided so much on that defensive end. And I knew that’s where I saw him at the next level. Steven would not have made it as a pro as a number 10. For all of those reasons – it was best for the program, it was best for him, it was best for his career – it needed to happen.”

Not everyone agreed with the switch, however. Kirshner recalls a conversation he had with current Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall, who had recently graduated from San Diego State’s soccer program, in which he mentioned possibly moving Beitashour to outside back.

“He said, ‘You have to be crazy coach,” Kirshner said.

On the other hand, Beitashour was open to the change – despite having never played the position before. If it helps the team win, Beitashour said he’s on board.

“Whatever the coach wants me to do,” he said. “I don’t care where I’m playing as long as the team is winning. You can throw gloves on me and I’ll do my best.”

That wouldn’t be necessary.

Beitashour, now a right back, split time between left back and left midfield during his freshman year at San Diego State. He started 10 of his 18 appearances that year and registered a pair of assists in the process.

That increased to 16 starts and three assists the following year, which is when other teams started to take notice. The University of California, Berkeley, who Beitashour had personally emailed seeking an opportunity back in high school, even tried to get him to transfer after his sophomore year.

“I said no, San Diego State is my school now,” Beitashour recalled.

Berkeley isn’t the only school who regretted not giving Beitashour a chance. Back in high school, his girlfriend’s mother worked at Santa Clara and passed along Beitashour’s name, but they weren’t interested. And after he turned pro, they came back to her and said: “Wow, we screwed up on that one didn’t we?”

Beitashour recorded eight assists in 57 appearances over four years with the San Diego State Aztecs. 

(Photo courtesy of the San Diego State Aztecs)

Beitashour went on to appear in 57 matches over four seasons at San Diego State, recording eight assists during the process.

His numbers were good, but not spectacular. The same could be said for the Aztecs team, who always kind of flew under the radar in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Aztecs had a losing record just once during Beitashour’s four years at the school. That was in 2008, when he missed most of the season due to injury. But the team never won anything, or even qualified for the NCAA Tournament, and Beitashour never received any major accolades.

The only recognition he earned came in 2009, his senior year, when he was an all-Pac-10 honourable mention. Beitashour, a communications major, was also an honourable mention for the Pac-10 All-Academic team that year thanks to a 3.04 CGPA.

But that wasn’t enough to get him on the professional radar. He wasn’t even invited to the MLS SuperDraft Combine.

“I kind of went back to my high school days where no one is recognizing you,” said Beitashour, who did receive one offer from a pro team in Belgium at the age of 20. “Not getting invited to the main combine put another chip on my shoulder. The same one that I had in high school and college … now college to the pros.”

It wasn’t that players on the Aztecs weren’t getting any exposure. Several MLS teams called Kirshner inquiring about his players – Beitashour just wasn’t one of them. The player who was drawing the most interest was Nick Cardenas, a 6-foot-5 centre back who was a four-time all-Far West region all-star.

“I told them, ‘Look I have no problem chatting about Nick Cardenas but would you like to know who my best pro is going to be?’” said Kirshner, who fielded calls from over 10 teams on Cardenas. “They were stumped. A lot of them didn’t even know Steven’s name.”

“One story I would give to these pro coaches is, I’d say put two cones down and let Steven play against Landon Donovan,” Kirshner continued. “And I don’t have problems putting money on Steven. He’s got all sides of the game one-on-one, tactically he just kept growing and growing because he’s a student of the game, and he’s just a wonderful individual and a consummate pro.”

Eventually, Kirshner convinced MLS sides Seattle Sounders FC and Chivas USA to take a look at Beitashour on a tryout. But it was a tryout Beitashour arranged himself, with the help of a close family friend, that would eventually determine his future.  

That close family friend, Meelaud, is actually more like a cousin to Beitashour, who was best friends with his older brother growing up. In a nutshell, Meelaud put in a good word about Beitashour to his U-16 club coach, who knew San Jose Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop.

Meelaud’s coach, Mark Schrick, then relayed that information to Yallop.

“The next day, Frank Yallop was calling me. I was just so excited,” said Beitashour, who is quick to credit Meelaud and Schrick, a man he’s never met, for setting up the opportunity. “The team you grew up watching is giving you a chance. It’s like finally someone is actually listening.”

And within a week of tryouts, first with other college trialists and then with the first team, Yallop had seen all he needed.

“When you have different trialists come in, usually what happens is within five minutes you’re like, ‘I don’t think he’s going to make it,’” Yallop told whitecapsfc.com. “But I thought Steven looked pretty good right away. He was quick, athletic, and very alert … I liked him from the start.”

“That’s the thing with Steven,” added Kirshner. “When you see him every day, you’re going to like him.”

The Quakes brass liked Beitashour so much that they were prepared to sign him right then and there. At that point, Beitashour had one semester left at San Diego State.

“I told them look, ‘I’m going back just for one semester to get my degree,’” Beitashour said. “I could have gone pro when I was in 20 in Belgium. The whole point of coming back and not taking the offer was to get the degree.”

So that’s what he did.

ONTO THE PROS

Beitashour graduated from San Diego State in December 2009, which was conveniently just one month before the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. The Earthquakes, who had four picks in the first two rounds alone, were Beitashour’s first choice. But at the same time, he was just hoping to get picked.

Despite Kirshner’s best efforts, Beitashour still wasn’t a guaranteed selection. In fact, there was no mention of him in any of the pre-draft chatter.

From San Jose’s perspective, it wasn’t a matter of whether or not they wanted Beitashour – Yallop made it clear that they did. The question was: where do they take him?

Yallop said he was a little worried, because he wasn’t sure how many other teams had him on their radar. And based on how things unfolded, he was fortunate that not many did.

The Quakes used their first three picks to select centre back Ike Opara (third overall), midfielder Michael Thomas (19th overall), and right back Justin Morrow (28th overall).

Finally, with their final pick of the second round, San Jose nabbed the hometown boy at 30th overall.

“It was a relief when he was there,” Yallop said.

Although Beitashour knew San Jose had interest, to hear his name called was a relief for him too.

“I’m sure it happens a lot where they say they’re going to take you and then it doesn’t happen,” he said. “I was just happy to get picked up. And then, the chip on the shoulder is to show all these other teams … you know, how come they didn’t give me a chance? It’s always there. There’s always a new chip.”

It didn’t take Beitashour long to make his mark in MLS.

San Jose’s starting right back, Chris Leitch, was issued a red card in their first game of the 2010 season – a 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake. That opened the door for Beitashour, who made his MLS debut the following game in Leitch’s absense.

And with Beitashour in the lineup, the Quakes earned a 2-1 road win over Chicago Fire. To date, Beitashour said it’s the most memorable moment of his MLS career.

“It’s tough as a rookie coming into the league where people are faster, people are stronger, people are taller,” Beitashour said. “It’s just one of those things. Do you make it or not? You’re kind of thrown into it. If you crumble, you’re gone. I’m just fortunate that I did well and the team did well, and just kept it going.”

WATCH: Beitashour scores his first MLS goal

Beitashour got the start again the next game, and then in just his third professional outing, scored his first MLS goal. It was a promising start to Beitashour’s professional career, but injuries limited him to just eight appearances and 640 minutes of action in his rookie season.

It was the following year that he really burst onto the MLS scene.

In 2011, Beitashour started all 19 of his appearances and recorded a team-high seven assists, which was also tied for the league-high among defenders. No out-and-out defender has recorded more assists in a single season since 2006. That’s an impressive stat in itself, but even more so when you consider that Beitashour missed 15 games that season – mostly due to injury.

If 2011 was Beitashour’s coming out party, then 2012 was his arrival.

In his third season, Beitashour helped lead the 2012 Quakes to the MLS Supporters’ Shield as the top regular season team. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound right back picked up six assists that year and led all defenders with 110 crosses, while starting all 33 of his MLS regular season appearances. He was also an MLS All-Star, playing the full 90 minutes in a 3-2 win over English Premier League giant Chelsea.

“He was a huge part of our growth,” said Yallop, who is now the head coach of Chicago Fire. “He was a good attacking fullback and with the way we played, I loved it. He got crosses in and was a really big, big part of what we were doing well at that point.”

At the end of the 2012 season, Beitashour underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia and then had a second procedure in February 2013, which forced him to miss the first seven matches of the season. But he returned to full health at the end of April and started the team’s remaining 27 matches, recording a goal and three assists. He hasn’t missed a game due to injury since.

In total, Beitashour started 86 of his 87 regular season appearances with the Earthquakes and became known as one of the league's top fullbacks.

That’s why Whitecaps FC welcomed him with open arms when he became available at the start of the 2014 season. The ‘Caps acquired Beitashour from San Jose in exchange for allocation money, after he and the Quakes failed to agree on a contract extension.

It was a perfect fit for the ‘Caps, who were in the market for a right back after the retirement of Young Pyo-Lee. At the time of the deal, Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson called Beitashour “arguably the best right back in the league.”

Though Beitashour said he always enjoyed playing in his hometown, “a good opportunity came knocking on the door” in Vancouver and he didn’t want to pass it up. 

“I’m so appreciative that they were willing to take a chance on me and give me an opportunity to extend my career,” said Beitashour, who is just three games short of 100 career MLS regular season appearances. “It’s been a short journey so far [in Vancouver] but hopefully it’s a long one. I’ve had a lot of fun.”

Beitashour’s tenure in Vancouver has been quiet, but effective thus far – not unlike his most of his collegiate career. He’s defended well and has been on the ball more than most players – his average of 65.7 touches per game is third best on the team. 

Beitashour, one of eight Whitecaps FC players nominated for the 2014 MLS All-Star Game, also picked up a pair of assists in April against LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. That gives him 18 assists since 2011, which is more than any MLS defender during the same timeframe.

As Yallop noted, part of what made Beitashour so effective in San Jose was his ability to provide service from the flanks and get crosses into the box. That’s how the Quakes generated a lot of their offence, which is a stark contrast to the passing-based style Robinson has established in Vancouver this season.

“I think he’s got better and better with each game,” said Robinson, who praised Beitashour for his tackle that led to Sebastian Fernandez’s late goal against Real Salt Lake. “Obviously we’re not a big team. I’ve told him quite a few times that I think he’s used to crossing for Wondolowski and Lenhart at the back post.”

“You just have to adapt,” Beitashour said. “Unfortunately, I’ve been caught on the wrong end of it where I’m putting too much air on the ball. I need to just keep it lower or maybe not even cross the ball. It’s something that I personally like to do but if it doesn’t help the team I won’t do it. Whatever I can do to help the team.”

According to Whitecaps FC captain Jay DeMerit, who played in the 2010 FIFA World Cup with the United States, he’s helped the team in more ways than one.

“He’s just a great guy to have in the locker room,” said DeMerit. “He’s always positive, he’s always smiling, and he’s always a guy that you want to go to battle with and fight for.”

Beitashour started each of Whitecaps FC’s first 10 matches of the season before departing for Iran’s World Cup camp in May. That was his fourth call-up to the squad – he made his debut last year.

The Iranian men’s national team actually first expressed interest in Beitashour back in 2011. 

“Obviously, I was ecstatic,” Beitashour said. “I said absolutely I’d be interested to play.”

From there, Beitashour said it was a lot of going back and forth with emails and phone calls – not to mention all the paperwork that needed to be filled out.

“It was a long process,” he said.

During that process, the U.S. national team came calling in August 2012. Beitashour, who has dual Iranian-American citizenship, was eligible to play for both countries.

At that point, Beitashour hadn’t yet received a formal invitation from the Iranian squad. So he decided to accept the call-up from U.S. national team head coach Jürgen Klinsmann.

Beitashour was with the U.S. for their 1-0 win over Mexico in an international friendly on August 15, 2012; however, we was an unused substitute – therefore maintaining his eligibility to play for Iran.

He received a second call-up from Klinsmann in January 2013, but was forced to leave due to the sports hernia that kept him out of San Jose’s first seven matches that season.

That was the last he heard from Klinsmann and the U.S.

Meanwhile, the process with Iran continued. And in October 2013, he finally got an official invite to join the national team – an invite he accepted without hesitation.

When Beitashour arrived in Tehran, Iran’s capital city, his mom was waiting at the airport with his aunt, cousin, and a flock of reporters. It was 4 a.m.

“It was surreal. To go there not just to visit your family, but to go there to play for the country … it’s just one of those things I’m so proud of,” he said. “I was excited to see what was to come. Because, what do you expect?”

One thing he didn’t expect was not seeing his mom in the stands at Iran’s upcoming 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Thailand, in which he was slated to make his debut. In Iran, women aren’t allowed to attend games at Azadi Stadium, the home of the Iranian men’s national team. And that was news to Beitashour.

“I was definitely bummed out that she couldn’t go,” he said. “Obviously, she would have really liked to. But a rule is a rule and you have to obey those rules. You just have to move past it.”

Another thing he definitely didn’t expect was hearing his name chanted in unison by the 17,330 fans in attendance at his debut match against Thailand on October 15, 2013.

That was before the match even kicked off.  

Beitashour made his debut with the Iranian men's national team in October 2013. 

Beitashour didn’t start, but when he got up around the 70th minute to warm up on the sidelines, the crowd started chanting his name again. He was subbed on moments later.

“I remember getting goosebumps,” he said. “They’re chanting for me and they’re so supportive. It was truly amazing. It was remarkable. I’ll never forget it.”

Iran ended up winning that game 2-1. And when they met Thailand again the following month in another 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifier, Beitashour made his first start and recorded an assist as Iran cruised to a 3-0 victory.

To date, Beitashour has earned six caps with the Iranian men’s national team, including a pair of appearances in May against Montenegro and Angola. He’s been a member of the squad for less than a year, but that’s been more than enough to give him a taste of the country’s soccer-crazed culture.

“That’s their sport,” he said. “That’s it. Everybody lives and dies for that sport. They’re so passionate about it. Just being there, you have a little kid to an old grandma and they’ll both know about the national team. They’ll come up to you and say, ‘Oh, you guys had a game yesterday and you won 2-1 over Thailand. Good job.’ You come back to the U.S. and people are like, ‘Oh, U.S. had a game?’ It’s just cool, because that’s my life and for other people to appreciate it that much and care about it that much … it was a good feeling.”

For Beitashour, it was never a matter of choosing Iran over the United States – or vice versa when he accepted the call from Klinsmann in 2012. He always felt a close connection to both countries, even back in 1998 when he and his family watched Iran and the U.S. square off in the World Cup.

“Both my parents were born in Iran, all my real close friends were Iranian, you speak the language at home … that’s all your mom speaks to you,” he said. “But at the same time, you were born in the U.S. and you were raised there. It’s just one of those things where you’re both and that’s how it is.”

“It was always about soccer,” he continued. “It wasn’t about anything else. Any time you’re at the national stage, it’s an honour to be there. It was just about playing soccer at the highest level.”

From an unheralded college player to the world’s biggest stage, it’s already been quite the journey for Beitashour. And the journey continues this month at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 

It’s not too late to participate in the best sporting experience in Vancouver. Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including prorated season tickets ($220), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets, and a youth soccer half-season ticket. Single-match tickets start at $22, subject to applicable fees. For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.