SAO PAULO (AP) — His shirt off post practice with multiple upper-body tattoos on display and dreadlocks as messy as ever, Kyle Beckerman signed autographs through a small space in the fence separating him from a swarm of fans.
For Beckerman, being in Brazil is what he planned all along. Ever since the days he began signing his autograph as an unofficial member of the national team around age 8.
Whether leaving a note to his parents letting them know he'd gone to a friend's house and wouldn't be home for dinner or was off to soccer practice, Beckerman always ended with his signature of Kyle Beckerman, followed by "USA No. 15."
Now, at 32, Beckerman is living it for real.
"Yeah, it's come full circle," Beckerman said. "I didn't know. That's what I wanted to happen, but you never know."
Beckerman knows this will all go by far too quickly, because as soon the Americans are done playing in Brazil he will be back to his job as captain of Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake.
Midfield mate Brad Davis posted a photo on Twitter of him with Beckerman, who gave a thumbs up as they departed for Brazil while carrying a guitar on his back.
The dreads go way back for Beckerman, whose curly hair would easily knot up if he neglected to comb it as a kid — forcing his mom to pull out the scissors. Once out of the house, he let it go for good.
Beckerman keeps things light with his music for the Americans.
"Of course, look at his hair, man, a bit of Bob Marley," Davis said Wednesday. "He's a bit of a free spirit."
While Beckerman didn't play in the first of three sendoff matches, he came in for the second half against Turkey and moved into the starting lineup in a defensive role for the finale against Nigeria as coach Jurgen Klinsmann switched up his midfield.
"We've often talked about Kyle, and we keep talking about him because he's a pure giver to that team. He's one that covers other's backs, and that's literally what he's doing," Klinsmann said. "Chemistry-wise, he's an extremely important player to that group, because he has tremendous experience, he's always hungry and you know that when he steps on the field, even if it's a public training session, that he's going to go 150 percent."
Klinsmann could mix and match, yet it looks like Beckerman might start Monday's World Cup opener against Ghana.
"This whole process of being with the national team, you've just got to be ready, ready when your number's called," Beckerman said.
His teammates trust him to be that reliable defensive stopper no matter the situation or who is attacking.
"He's a very disciplined player," midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. "He's the type of guy that will be that No. 6, that anchor guy that makes sure when players like myself or the outside backs spring forward, that we know he's going to be there covering our backs."
Soccer's showcase event means so much to Beckerman, among the inaugural players to take part in the U.S. under-17 residence program in 1999 along with Landon Donovan, current left back DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu. He helped that American team reach the semifinals of the FIFA Under-17 World Championship.
He's at a different level now.
"It hasn't totally sunk in that this is the team," he said. "I got a little taste of it with the youth national teams, the under-17s but you never know with the full team. It's just amazing that it's come full circle."
Now that he's in Brazil, he wants to savor the experience.
"I've talked to a couple people who played in World Cups before, and they say it just goes by like that. As soon as we get done with this we have our season going on. It's like it didn't even happen. I'm trying to soak it all in for sure and enjoy it."
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.