Galacticos to Galaxy - Edmonton Sun

Besides publicity, MLS squad hopes that the presence of David Beckham raises level of play around him

By DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

LOS ANGELES — He’s the most talented player on the field.

That’s why the Los Angeles Galaxy paid $250-million for his services.

But going from the star-studded lineup of Real Madrid to playing in the MLS has been an adjustment for David Beckham. An injury-plagued first season aside, and despite all the glitz and hoopla surrounding his arrival in the United States, the 32-year-old midfielder is still considered one of the top players in the world.

Last night in an exciting 5-2 victory over Chivas, U.S.A. at the Home Depot Center, however, he was left on an island on the right wing with a defender stuck on his hip all night.

He did come close to scoring on a patented freekick, sailing the ball just over the bar from 25-yards out in the second half. He then took another from just outside the box which would have hit the target had one of his teammates not got in the way. Then with seven minutes left, Beckham helped set up the Galaxy’s fifth goal.

“At the end of the day I’m a positive person and I believe that wherever I am, or wherever I’m playing, there are great players in that team,” Beckham said. “That’s the way I personally look at it, whether I’m playing for Manchester United and with some of the best goal-scorers or Real Madrid and playing with Ronaldo and Raul. I’m here playing with players that have a lot ability and I can see that.”

It’s not as though he’s surrounded by a bunch of stiffs with the Galaxy.

Striker Landon Donovan is considered by many to be the best American-born soccer player of all time and scored a hat-trick for the Galaxy. The first on a great left-footed volley. The second fighting off a defender in front and slotting it past the goalkeeper. The third placing a left-footed shot into the bottom corner.

Heading into last night’s match against Chivas U.S.A. at the Home Depot Center, Donovan, 26, had 83 career goals in the league. Last night was his second career hat trick.

“That was a great score for a soccer game, but normally 5-2 doesn’t happen in a darby,” said Galaxy head coach Ruud Gullit. “Usually darby’s are a little tighter. But it was a good win.”

So far this season Beckham has been on another level. A number of his prefect crosses and pin-point passes have gone to waste. It’s something Edmonton soccer fans will get a chance to see first hand when the Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps square off in an exhibition game on May 13th at Commonwealth Stadium.

Beckham going from the Spanish first division to the MLS would be comparable to a top NHLer going to play hockey in Switzerland.

The Spanish league is considered one of the best in the world. The MLS is still trying to make a name for itself.

By bringing Beckham to the Galaxy, the goal was not only to increase the profile of the league and the sport in North America, but to help raise the level of play.

He increased the profile just by stepping off the plane with his former pop singer wife.

However, injuries limited him to just five appearances last season, which led to some criticism and added extra pressure on him this year. Yet having played in the caldron of the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Old Trafford in Manchester and in three World Cups with the English national team, Beckham is no stranger to pressure.

“That’s part of the game these days,” he said. “I don’t feel any added pressure. It’s pressure that I’m enjoying. I enjoy coming into a situation like this where it’s a challenge. I’m enjoying it.”

Including last night’s game, Beckham has played in every minute of the Galaxy’s first five games of the season, scoring a goal and setting up four others. By contract he has to play at least 45 minutes in Edmonton, though in recent exhibitions prior to the MLS season he has played the full 90 minutes.

“He’s clearly not past his prime,” said Donovan. “People can say what they want, but that’s clear to me and I’d tell you if I thought otherwise. He’s still a very good player and he’s still very effective.”

Beckham has been so good lately that he was recently called up to play for the English national team in an exhibition game against France. It was his 100th appearance for England and probably not his last.

England manager Fabio Capello said on Friday Beckham could be on the team for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa even though he would be 35.

“I’ve always said that I would love to play in the 2010 World Cup,” Beckham said. “People talk as if I’m 36 or 37 years old and I’m only 32 at the moment. I feel I still have quite a few good years left in me. I think if I take care of my body, eat the right things and look after myself there is no reason to be involved in that.”

© Edmonton Sun 2008