A night for memories-Edmonton Journal

Only chance to see Beckham play in Edmonton

The Edmonton Journal

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It long has been the view here that when a chance to witness true sporting excellence falls smack in your lap, you have to find a mighty good reason not to show up.

Which makes the one-off visit of Los Angeles Galaxy star and England's international set-piece magician David Beckham to Commonwealth Stadium tonight for a friendly against the

Vancouver Whitecaps an absolute must-see for those collectors of

memorable sporting moments out there.

True, Beckham is Beckham; he's not Pele, not Maradona, not Johan Cruyff. But he is a unique player and a worldwide phenomenon whose like the fans in Edmonton are not likely to see again.

Commonwealth Stadium is a fabulous backdrop for the one-off match, but given the current business model in Major League Soccer, the 14-team league Beckham's Galaxy competes in, a major pro team is not about to take root out there on commonwealth's famous natural grass pitch.

And yet, as Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi was saying Monday evening, while standing on a surprisingly green, game-ready field: "The Vancouver game (a friendly held at B.C. Place Stadium last November), transcended the game.

"It wasn't a game, it was an event."

Which was a good thing because that match, which pulled in 48,172 fans, wasn't the game it might have been.

"It was not the best game," said Lee Godfrey, ex-Edmontonian who is the play-by-play voice of GolTV, the digital cable network that will broadcast tonight's game live across Canada. "It was at the end of both teams' season, so nothing was really on the line and he wasn't 100-per-cent healthy, either.

"The turf at B.C. Place was that first generation of Fieldturf, so it was actually in squares, so there were grooves in the ground, and I think the players really were apprehensive because it looked

like it could be very easy to roll an ankle or come up with another injury."

Tonight figures to be another story.

"I think it will be a little bit better

because last time we weren't so fit and they were in between coaches, which is never easy," said Whitecaps veteran and longtime Canadian international player Martin Nash. "Now, they're in (mid- season) and we're about a month in, too, so I think it will be a good test and be a fun match."

Midfielder Alfredo Valente, who played a few seasons for the Edmonton Drillers a decade or so ago, knows firsthand that a game at Commonwealth in front of a sizeable crowd can be a special experience.

"I actually sat up there and watched Canada play a game in the freezing cold in 1999 or 2000, so I do know the history of soccer here in Edmonton," said Valente, who expects to spend some time marking Beckham. "I had the opportunity to do that in November and he was filtering onto to my left side during that game, so (I) caught quite a few pieces of brilliance out of him and I'm sure we'll see more of that (tonight)."

What the fans won't see is Beckham feeding Landon Donovan, who leads the MLS in goals with eight, thanks in large part to Beckham's playmaking. Donovan did not make the trip.

If the form chart holds, they're likely to see plenty of Beckham, who played 72 minutes in that Vancouver match, when he was only obliged to go for 45 minutes.

And the event-savvy Lenarduzzi isn't about to subject fans to the ticket-wicket snafu that befell the fans during the Under-20 World Cup last summer. For one game, during that tournament, thousands of fans spent the entire first half lined up outside Commonwealth.

"We're making sure that we have all the ticket wickets open, which didn't happen," Lenarduzzi said. "It didn't happen for a Trinidad-Canada match (that Lenarduzzi helped broadcast a few years back) and people were left outside.

"I gather the building is built to get people in, so it's just a matter of (staffing) the ticket booths. We don't want people not coming because of the experiences they've had in the past."

More important, Lenarduzzi envisions more international friendlies at Commonwealth, especially based on the 35,000-strong crowd he expects tonight. That size crowd has made this a financial success for the Whitecaps, game-day walk-up or not.

"Part of the appeal of here is that you're close to Vancouver," Lenarduzzi said of the possibility of future games. "If you're bringing teams over, more often than not, they want to play more than one game.

"To be able to come to (more or less) the same time zone, with a short flight and play on grass -- that's very appealing to the teams that are coming from overseas.

"We saw it as an opportunity to get a game in, have David Beckham do what he does -- and he does it very well as the great ambassador that he is.

"Then from there, depending on what kind of crowd turns up, look at what other opportunities there might be."

As for the actual game, Lenarduzzi has a scenario in mind there, too: "Ideally, there will be some goalscoring,

"I'd love to win 4-3 and have Beckham score three free kicks."

And everyone goes home happy.

jmackinnon@thejournal.canwest.com

© The Edmonton Journal 2008