Becks' MLS start was big winner for American soccer
Posted: Sunday August 19, 2007 12:05AM; Updated: Sunday August 19, 2007 12:10AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Five things we learned from the electric 5-4 victory by the New York Red Bulls against the Los Angeles Galaxy here on Saturday:
1. David Beckham is delivering the goods. Even in a loss, even on a night when four of his free kicks went straight into the New York wall, Beckham was magnificent. Before a crowd of more than 66,000 that came mainly to see one man, Becks fed Carlos Pavón for two goals in the first eight minutes off free kicks, erasing an early 1-0 Red Bulls lead. Hagler vs. Hearns, I wrote in my notebook as the two teams traded haymakers at a freakishly feverish pace. If you're ever wondering whether one player can change the way an entire soccer team plays, now we have an answer. Beckham has transformed the Galaxy in the last two games from a team lacking heart and imagination into one that came back from 1-0 and 4-2 deficits here before finally falling 5-4.
2. Enjoy Jozy Altidore while you can. The 17-year-old Red Bulls wunderkind took a big step forward in his first main-event professional game, scoring two impressive goals, including one in which his feints and cuts and stepovers posterized not one but two Galaxy defenders. Granted, the defense was often poor in this game, but Altidore showed that he won't shrink in the pressure of a big match. The more Altidore sees his U.S. U-20 teammates leaving for European teams, the more he wants to head to Europe himself, and a performance like this one might hasten that exit.
3. Clint Mathis can still turn back the clock. I'm not sure where Cletus found the stamina that made him a factor for the entire 90 minutes, but his ability to combine that newfound energy with some moments of sheer technical brilliance -- his volleyed goal to equalize at 2-2 and his inch-perfect pass on Altidore's first goal -- brought back memories of classic early-decade Mathis. He may have had a hard time finding a permanent spot in Bruce Arena's starting XI, but if Mathis continues to have devastating performances like this one (and if Claudio Reyna keeps having injury problems) then everyone should be put on notice.
4. Beckham may be trying to do too much too soon. There's something admirable, obviously, about a player who is so "stubborn" (Beckham's term) to listen to common sense that he goes and plays 90 minutes on an ankle that clearly isn't 100 percent healthy. But considering Beckham's desire to play in England's friendly against Germany at Wembley on Wednesday and in the Galaxy's game against Chivas USA in L.A. only a day later, I hope he has someone who can tell him when he's trying to do too much. Right now he's really pushing the envelope.
5. The big winner in this game was American soccer. Look, MLS has its issues, and nobody would call this game a defensive masterpiece. But if you're trying to sell soccer to American fans it's hard to imagine how things could have gone much better. For one night, at least, there was a soccer buzz in Giants Stadium that we've rarely seen in the past three decades, and the action on the field delivered. We had a blizzard of goals. We had megawatt star power. We had throwdowns on the field. We had storylines to burn. The level of play will have to get better, no doubt, but the intensity of this game was something to behold.