What we learned
Galaxy needs Beckham fully healthy for MLS games
Posted: Sunday July 22, 2007 12:00AM; Updated: Sunday July 22, 2007 2:45AM
CARSON, Calif. -- Phil Anschutz, the reclusive billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Galaxy, hasn't given an interview in more than 30 years. But when I asked his top lieutenant, Tim Leiweke, last month if Anschutz had said anything to him lately about his soon-to-arrive superstar, David Beckham, the three-word response came instantly:
Is he hurt?
Guess what, folks: Beckham is hurt. Not badly enough that he should miss any MLS league games (see below), but enough that he shouldn't play again until at least July 31. Becks gamely trotted onto the field Saturday night in the 77th minute of the Galaxy's 1-0 friendly loss to Chelsea, but he was clearly favoring his injured left ankle, and it's a wonder Chelsea's Steve Sidwell didn't make it worse when he clattered into Beckham at full speed on a 50-50 ball.
Which brings us to five things we learned from the night that Beckham drew a roar from the crowd simply by tying his shoe:
1. Beckham shouldn't play again until at least July 31 (or maybe even Aug. 5). If Becks wasn't fit enough to play much in a meaningless friendly on Saturday, there's no way he should step on the field for a competitive game against hard-tackling Mexicans this Tuesday (against Pachuca) or next Saturday (against Chivas de Guadalajara) in the first-year Superliga tournament. Maybe Beckham could be ready for July 31 in the Superliga against FC Dallas, but I'd hold him out until his first MLS league game at Toronto FC on Aug. 5. The Galaxy needs points to dig out of its hole in the league, and there's no sense in risking Beckham during a tournament that's just not that important.
2. The Galaxy didn't embarrass itself. After its 3-0 loss to Tigres here on Tuesday night, the Galaxy got killed in the British press, which called the two-time MLS champs a Sunday pub-league side. Granted, Chelsea was hardly going at full-throttle, but L.A. put on a pretty good display, creating a few scoring chances (Landon Donovan should have put away a point-blank header off Quavas Kirk's marvelous cross but hit it over the bar) and defending in a much more organized manner. (Ty Harden, in particular, improved dramatically from Tuesday night.) The Galaxy still needs a lot of work to build some chemistry, but this is a team that could improve dramatically down the stretch in MLS given the talent on the roster.
3. Donovan may wear No. 10, but he isn't a No. 10. Poor Donovan had to play out of position as the playmaker -- the spot that Beckham is supposed to fill once he's healthy. But Donovan clearly wasn't comfortable in the center, rarely touching the ball and not distributing with much precision even when he did. Donovan will be much more dangerous when he's farther upfield -- and on the end of Beckham's passes. The Galaxy's lack of chemistry and possession with Donovan in the center was a reminder that it may take a while for Beckham to gain an understanding with his teammates in that spot even when he does get healthy.
4. Beckham and MLS referees may be a combustible mix. It only took Becks 11 minutes to get visibly upset with referee Brian Hall, which makes me curious to see how frustrated he becomes with the zebras once play really gets going. Remember, Beckham collected yellow cards like crazy in Spain last season, and I was often struck by how demonstrative he got with referees in La Liga. MLS refs aren't exactly of the same caliber, but I wonder if they'll be willing to show Beckham yellow or even red cards if he warrants them.
5. The night was fun, but before long this Beckham extravaganza needs to be about the soccer. Beckham clearly has created a ton of buzz in L.A., and it was fun to see Kevin Garnett and Arnold Schwarzenegger at a soccer game. The crowd roared when Beckham began warming up. It whistled when he bent over to stretch. And everyone went nuts when he hit a simple header to clear the ball out of the Galaxy box. Given the unfortunate circumstances of Beckham's injury, you couldn't have asked for much more out of an evening that could have been a total bummer. But none of that will matter in a few weeks unless Beckham is on the field at full strength doing what he does best. If he tries to come back too early, it'll be a big mistake.