Former Fire midfielder DaMarcus Beasley emerged from the locker room in the bowels of Soldier Field and into the postgame media scrum proudly carrying the spoils of his efforts in Sunday's Gold Cup finale: a giant, gleaming gold trophy.
"I'm enjoying the celebration," he said with a smile.
The celebration will be etched into the 31-year-old's mind forever, of standing on the field as the captain of a championship squad after the U.S. men's national team dispatched Panama 1-0 on the field where his professional career began.
"To win it here again is a special moment for myself, and to be captain and hold the trophy up for the first time it was a good moment," he said. "It was something I'll never forget."
While you can take the athlete out of the Windy City, you apparently can't take the Windy City out of the athlete.
"I still have so much love for the fans of the Chicago Fire," he said. "This was my first real club."
Beasley, who played 4½ seasons at Soldier Field as a member of the Fire and won the Gold Cup in Chicago six years ago while on the U.S. squad, certainly earned his moment.
Over the past month, the American team he's captained has been red hot, winning 11 consecutive games. That streak, which started June 2 against Germany, has the native of Fort Wayne, Ind., feeling optimistic about the squad's World Cup chances in 2014.
"You want to start peaking at this time before a World Cup, before all the qualifying, you want that confidence," he said. "Right now, we have that confidence that we can beat anybody and it's a lovely thing to have. Hopefully it stays until Brazil.
"I'm very proud of everybody. This team came together very fast. It's a young group, new group, inexperienced but at the same time but at the same time, we did the job that we needed to do to become champions."
Although this squad did feature marquee names such as himself and forward Landon Donovan, Beasley said this title felt more like a true team effort.
"You look at today, obviously over the last month and you can't say that one player had a bad performance," he said. "Every person on this team in this Gold Cup had a good game when they got their chance. That's what a team is about, that's what a nation is about."
Beasley said a lot has changed since he was roaming Soldier Field as a first time professional from 2000-04.
"I've matured as a player," he said. "Now I understand the game, I read the game very well."
Because of that, he's able to better appreciate moments like the one he experienced on a sun-dappled July afternoon in front of 57,920 of his closest friends.
"In 2007, I was a little bit younger," he said. "Today, it is myself, Landon [Donovan], [Nick] Rimando, we were the veterans ones that made sure we stayed on track. I think we did and I’m very proud of that."
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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