Before "the stars align" -- that's one of the Los Angeles Galaxy's ongoing advertising slogans -- let's quickly review Major League Soccer's, uh, astronomical history.
It's important, because worlds are merging in Los Angeles, where the MLS hierarchy of poster boys (i.e., "stars") is being made over big time.
There was a time when Cobi Jones' mug was splashed about generously on league marketing material. His name was first on the idea board when Madison Avenue brains sketched TV campaigns.
The appetite was significant for Jones, a slashing blur of dreadlocks and promise, recognizable beyond soccer circles and beloved within them for his cup of coffee in England's top league (he played with Coventry City between 1994-95). He was among the most "Googled" soccer players before Google graduated to verb status.
That was nearly a lifetime ago, of course. Heck, that Internet thingy was still catching on as Jones helped launch Major League Soccer in 1996.
Last weekend at Home Depot Center, Jones staked his case for a last stand along the Alamo of relevancy. With lots of help from Landon Donovan's high-grade passing, Jones absolutely rescued his bumbling club. The prosaic Galaxy managed a 2-2 draw with the Kansas City Wizards in Carson.
Thanks to two gifts in the back, one from Chris Klein and one from Ante Jazic, visiting Kansas City enjoyed a two-goal lead. But Jones, off the bench, was on the spot to score with authority off a distant rebound. Then he was rewarded for a decisive near-post run, which he turned into a heroic equalizer.
It left Jones, 36, reveling in his first multi-goal match in almost five years. The man remains pertinent on the Galaxy roster because he continues to provide the lumbering offense a lift.
Manager Frank Yallop's plan was to sprinkle in Jones' services here and there. The boss hardly expected to need Jones so much, and so often. That Yallop is leaning so heavily on the veteran of veterans is equal parts testament to Jones' staying power and symbol of the club's current unhealthy state.
(Speaking of staying power, a quick shout-out to Jones' fellow MLS old-timer, the absurdly steady Steve Ralston: With little ado, Ralston matched Carlos Valderrama's all-time assist mark over the weekend. The Revolution winger was stuck on No. 113 for more than a month, interrupted by a national team recall. When Andy Dorman met an arching corner kick Saturday, Ralston finally had elusive No. 114, joining his former Tampa Bay Mutiny teammate atop the all-time list.)
Back to Jones: As his match mojo waned through the years, so did his marketing cache. He's not the advertising tour de force he was back when the Spice Girls were an emerging British curiosity, before we all mourned Private Ryan and when we all thought Steve Sampson was a crackerjack international manager. Good times.
So turns the world. And now we watch with interest as David Beckham's drawn-out arrival nears peak frenzy. The illustrious one, easily the brightest star in the MLS alignment, is set to land in Los Angeles on Friday. He'll debut competitively July 21 against a few old EPL chums from Chelsea.
Beckham's presence will further illuminate the Home Depot Center operation.
But is that a good thing? Surely Beckham, observing from his secretive vacation spot over the last two weeks, paused to quietly ponder, "What in the world have I gotten myself into?"
The Galaxy continues to run in place, beset increasingly by a faint odor of desperation to finally get the darn thing right. The draw with Kansas City completed a four-match home stand, allowing Frank Yallop's group to nibble the edges of success with two wins, a loss and a tie.
Well, before they start slapping backs and advising folks to retrieve those preseason predictions -- the ones that, ahem, had L.A. appearing in November's MLS Cup final -- let's examine this little wind sheer of success:
The victories were over Chicago and Real Salt Lake, two clubs that currently combine to muster all the attacking might of a decent community college side. (The Fire has eight shots on goal in its last five matches.)
The Galaxy's recent tie was against a Kansas City bunch that attacks admirably, even on the road, but one that has now revealed its potentially fatal flaw: The Wizards are nothing special without Eddie Johnson around to punctuate all those bold attacking sorties.
So Beckham will arrive soon to help prop up a flagging attack. The new kits will go on sale. Reporters and anchor people with pretty hair, who couldn't previously locate the Home Depot Center without a GPS linkup, will prattle on about soccer's version of royalty.
Major League Soccer will, officially, have a new head atop its marketing totem poll.
Thanks, Cobi. Now please stand aside as Mr. Beckham's entourage comes busily through.
On the pitch, however, Beckham will need Jones' contributions. Even all of Beck's starry brightness can't obscure the extent of the HDC disorder.
Everyone should now be asking questions about Galaxy management, about the apparent lack of grand designs. We're not talking about marketing designs here. In those waters, the course of the U.S.S. Beckham has been carefully and cleverly plotted. He will sell tickets. He will jostle the needle of domestic soccer awareness. Bank on it.
But on the field, L.A. has issues. Abel Xavier does seem increasingly in command in the middle and Ty Harden looks worthy of the wooly-haired vet's tutelage. Landon Donovan looks lively, as always (so long as Yallop keeps him in the middle and not tethered to the sideline). Joe Cannon finally is providing big saves again.
Outside of that? There are far more questions than answers, starting with a plan that's in a perplexing flux. Players for which Yallop traded only seven months ago are now being shipped away; Last week Nate Jaqua went to Houston for versatile Kelly Gray.
Carlos Pavon, looking a bit sluggish on Saturday, was signed just two weeks ago, about the time Edson Buddle came aboard in a trade. Before that, promising youngsters Robbie Findley and Nathan Sturgis were dealt away. Some of the trades might make sense. But the timing is worrisome and begs the question: Is there a plan, or are things being cooked up on the fly?
If so, Jones, the old poster boy, deserves better. So does the new one, Beckham. And so do all the MLS maybe-fans, those about to give the 12-year-old league a first look-see, based on the new face of the league.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.