International star turns in solid performance for Edmonton fans
The Edmonton Journal
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
What was it the late, great George Best once said about soccer icon David Beckham?
"He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn't score many goals. Apart from that he's all right."
To which the proper response just has to be: "So what was your point, Georgie?"
Along with everything else, Best was an all-world quipster. He was also spectacularly wrong about Beckham, or at least exaggerating to make a point, not to mention coax a laugh or two.
One suspects those critics who would denigrate Beckham's gifts, or dismiss him as more slickly packaged style than substance, simply haven't seen him play.
What the 37,104 Edmonton soccer fans who ventured to Commonwealth Stadium on Tuesday night saw was a world-class footballer blessed with the gift of simplicity, economy of motion, the every-move-has-a-purpose ability to make things happen and make those around him better.
It wasn't enough to lead his Los Angeles Galaxy to victory in a friendly against the Vancouver Whitecaps. But that wasn't the point, either.
Playing minus Carlos Ruiz and Landon Donovan, Major League Soccer's leading goal scorer (thanks hugely to Beckham) and with a full set of second stringers, the Galaxy lost 2-1 to an inspired Vancouver side.
Beckham set up his team's only score, by Alan Gordon, who converted a sublime cross from Beckham to tie the game 1-1 in the 43rd minute.
Typical Beckham. He is a playmaker, not a one-on-one artist. Here comes the ball, take a quick look and there it goes to a teammate, precisely and without hesitation.
It was the Whitecaps second crack at Beckham and the Galaxy in a friendly match, coming after what was, by all accounts, a desultory 0-0 game played before more than 48,000 people at Vancouver's B.C. Place Stadium in November.
On Tuesday night, there were only three goals, but a cluster of superb scoring chances for either side.
"The last game had no goals in it ... and that (scoring) helps make it more interesting," Beckham said. "And both teams are into the season and you're a lot more physical in getting around the pitch and going into players a lot stronger than you can at the end of a season.
"It was a lot more enjoyable this game than the last game, I must admit."
Beckham got around the pitch fine, despite nursing a bruised right foot, an injury he suffered in the Galaxy's game last week against Real Salt Lake, a game Beckham put his signature on by scoring a pair of long, beautiful balls, including a free kick.
Despite being sightly nicked -- he got around with a wee bit of a limp in the latter stages -- Beckham made it through 75 minutes of entertaining play and amply displayed his still-impressive gifts for finding the open man, feeding long balls to the instep of teammates, and bending corner kicks dangerously into the box.
Anyone who gazed down on the spotty, greenish-brown pitch expecting to see magical runs from Beckham, a la Maradona; or one-on-one sleight-of-foot, a la Ronaldinho, were misinformed, as Humphrey Bogart once remarked in another context. That's not Beckham.
The savvy distributor of the ball the crowd witnessed on Tuesday night was clearly a hit with the fans, whose camera flashes flickered around Commonwealth all game long.
Like Best, who played briefly in the North American Soccer League back in the 1980s, Beckham's mandate is to "grow the game," as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman used to say, particularly about one Wayne Gretzky.
At $250 million over five years, Beckham is being lavishly paid to fulfill that mandate for the MSL, but word is that through league-wide ticket and merchandise sales, the MSL is well on the way to recouping their investment.
"I think he handles it well," said Galaxy head coach Ruud Gullit, the former Holland international, who understands well the burden of stardom. "I think that he's a sportsman, he loves his game and you can see it.
"Every time he shows and that's why people like it."
Beckham carries the mantle with grace. The circumstances in North America have changed dramatically since Best came over for a career-ending, two- or three-year star turn in California. Still, Beckham is realistic about what the presence -- so far -- of one marquee player can accomplish.
"People have been great to me, very friendly, very enthusiastic about the game, considering it's not the No. 1 sport in America," Beckham said. "People have been amazing and the support and the interest is there.
"It's just a case of keeping that going as long as possible and, hopefully, it will get up there with basketball and baseball and American football.
"I'm sure it's never, ever going to be the No. 1 sport in America because, traditionally, there's so many other great sports, but the interest can be up there."
As for his one-off visit to Edmonton, Beckham was gracious.
"I'm sure they'll go home happy because they've seen their team win and they've seen a few goals and a good performance from both sides," Beckham said. "We thank them for their support."
That's the true superstar for you, delivering on the field of play and being polite and respectful to the last.
End it like Beckham.
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© The Edmonton Journal 2008