'I'm not done yet:' Veteran defender Tony Beltran opts to re-sign with Real Salt Lake

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SANDY — Tony Beltran is back — and by his own admission, he's not done yet.

After spending a few weeks in limbo when Real Salt Lake declined to renew his option past the 2018 season, veteran right back is now entering his 12th season with the club — he has re-signed with the only Major League Soccer club he has known, the organization announced Tuesday.

Beltran is one of three players on the active roster who helped RSL win the 2009 MLS Cup title, along with midfielder Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando. The trio makes up the majority of the five players in club history to espouse 10 seasons with the club, joining Javier Morales and Chris Wingert.

But the 31-year-old fringe U.S. international missed almost the entire 2018 season after a severe knee injury that ended his 2017 season prematurely. He eventually made it back into the game day 18 for Salt Lake’s final match of the season, a loss at Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference semifinals.

"It felt tremendous; it really did," Beltran recalled of the moment he was cleared to return and travel with the team. "It was just a huge sigh of relief to be around the boys again, around the staff, and to be on the road.

"There is something fun about that, and I really missed it. There really is a magic about it."

Now he’ll have a chance to make it back on the field again.

"I have heard writers say that the only book that matters is the next one," Beltran said. "Now I understand the same holds true in sports. For a long time, I didn’t know if there was going to be another game, the next one, or where that game would be.

"Next year, RSL and I will continue the journey we started together 11 years ago. The next game will be here, in this city that means so much to me, a place that I’m proud to call home."

RSL defender Tony Beltran is attended by the athletic training staff during the game against Colorado Rapids, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo: David Zalubowski, AP Photo)
RSL defender Tony Beltran is attended by the athletic training staff during the game against Colorado Rapids, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo: David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Beltran stayed close to the club during his recovery. He underwent surgery with team surgeon Dr. Andrew Cooper and often showed up to training sessions at Zions Bank Real Academy in Herriman — even when he knew he wouldn’t see any activity. He just wanted to be around a young locker room that needed leadership.

He also invested in himself, learning more about art and culture, spending time with his wife and young child, and launching a podcast called “I'll Be Right Back” with the RSL front office.

But mostly, he learned something unique about himself.

"I learned how to keep busy," he said. "But I think the biggest thing I can take away, and that I learned as I got closer to being on the ball, is that I’m not done yet. I don’t want to step away from the game.

"Early on with the injury of this magnitude, there were doubts in your mind. Am I going to be able to do this on such a high level? But as I got close, I realized that I can still do this, and in no way am I ready to stop playing."

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, Beltran won’t have to adjust to a new city, either. The player who made 245 appearances wearing a Claret-and-Cobalt uniform — including 230 starts — will look to build on his 2,500 minutes per year, one goal and 12 assists.

"I’m very happy that we were able to re-sign Tony," RSL coach Mike Petke said in a statement. "He is someone that embodies the character, professionalism and playing ability that I want to represent this team."

Only seven players in MLS history have played for just one club.

Beltran could easily become the eighth.

"Tony is part of the fiber of this club," RSL general manager Craig Waibel said. "Even as our roster evolves with a young core in place, it’s important to have players like Tony who are more than capable in their positions and excellent leaders in the locker room, as well."

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