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Aug 24, 2007

Galaxy's season all but over

As the last seconds ticked off the clock at the Home Depot Center on Thursday night, it was tough to tell which was in worse shape -- David Beckham's ankle or the Los Angeles Galaxy. After yet another ugly loss by the Galaxy and another inexplicable 90 minutes for Beckham's gimpy left ankle, both could be damaged beyond repair.

The 2007 season is over for the Galaxy. There are still MLS games to play, and the Galaxy will compete in the SuperLiga final on Wednesday. But any hopes of Beckham and the so-called jewel of Major League Soccer reaching the MLS postseason died a little more with every shot Chivas USA buried past goalkeeper Joe Cannon on Thursday in a 3-0 victory over L.A.

Yes, the Galaxy have played just 17 MLS matches this year, four fewer games than the Columbus Crew, who currently hold the No. 8 seed in the MLS playoffs. Yet Beckham's boys have demonstrated nothing to make their fans believe they can turn things around. From the comical defending to the putrid offense, the Galaxy look more like an expansion team than a marquee club.

How long has it been since the Galaxy's last victory in MLS play? Try July 4. They've lost without Beckham, and while a hobbled Beckham has proven that he can make them better, they have yet to win an MLS game with him on the field.

The Galaxy's struggles are the product of a poorly constructed roster that has little depth, a terrible defense and far too many older players who just can't produce consistent results. The back line is particularly awful. Whether it is Chris Klein doing a poor impression of a right back, Ty Harden showing his inexperience or Abel Xavier following up stellar games with stinkers (when he's not skipping games on artificial turf), Cannon must be pining for his Colorado days when all he had to worry about was a nonexistent offense.

The Galaxy attack isn't much better. The Galaxy's four-goal effort against the Red Bulls was an anomaly; the club has managed just one goal in the run of play in its past five MLS matches. Carlos Pavon and Edson Buddle have been disappointing, and while Landon Donovan has had some solid matches, he has found himself struggling to find support in the attack, particularly with Beckham so limited physically.

Perhaps more tragic than Chivas USA's demolition of their Home Depot Center neighbors was Galaxy coach Frank Yallop's decision to let Beckham play 90 minutes. It was the third full match in six days for Beckham, a time span that included a full match on artificial turf, a full international match against Germany and two lengthy flights. To have him go 90 minutes just 32 hours after he could barely run against Germany brings new meaning to the word negligent.

"It wasn't the intention to play him at all, but he came in and said that he felt OK," Yallop said of Beckham after Thursday's match. "And obviously, with our situation in the league, we need points."

Needing points is one thing, but sabotaging your own season is another. Thursday night's loss was a blow to the Galaxy's playoff hopes, but sacrificing that result in order to get Beckham some rest could have put the team in better position to take advantage of its back-loaded schedule.

Playing a worn-out Beckham for 90 minutes and risking a setback could wind up costing Los Angeles even more points if his injured left ankle forces him to miss a match against a beatable Colorado squad on Sunday, or if the wear and tear of the past week keeps Beckham from ever getting fully healthy this season.

Yallop had his chance to give Beckham some rest and end the insanity of Beckham's past six days, but rather than bench Beckham in the 69th minute with the Galaxy down 2-0, Yallop used his last substitution to sit Kyle Martino because he believed Beckham could still work some magic despite having just one good leg (apparently Yallop has watched "The Karate Kid" one too many times). That level of desperation illustrates just how bad things are with the Galaxy.

At this point, the biggest question surrounding the Galaxy isn't whether they can turn things around, but whether Yallop and L.A. president Alexi Lalas will survive this disaster of a season. Given Lalas' history, it wouldn't be surprising if he has already placed a call to Juergen Klinsmann to step in and salvage the season while drafting his speech explaining the need to fire Yallop. Lalas probably could just show a replay of Thursday's game, which shows Yallop's tactical decisions and his handling of Beckham.

There is no question that Beckham has the heart of a lion and would probably take the field with a broken bone if allowed, but that is exactly why Yallop should have ignored Beckham's claims of feeling fine and sat him for the entire match. Sure, it can be argued that Beckham is as much to blame, but he is a supreme competitor who realizes his team is in trouble. He needed someone more rational to step in and protect him. Nobody did on Thursday.

If anything, the image of Beckham wincing in pain with every step was hard to stomach because you just felt like his bravery was being wasted on a team that doesn't look worthy of the sacrifice.

Is Yallop really the man to blame for this mess? He has played his part, but Lalas is just as guilty, particularly if rumors are true that he was the man responsible for the Galaxy's inept trade of Nathan Sturgis and Robbie Findley for Klein as well as the signing of disappointing Honduran forward Carlos Pavon. Now Galaxy fans join supporters of the Red Bulls and the Earthquake in the fraternity of fans whose teams have been damaged by Lalas.

Is there a chance that Los Angeles can turn things around? Galaxy fans surely will point to the 2005 season, when their team looked similarly lost only to go on a late-season run that culminated with an improbable MLS Cup title. They could also point to Beckham's own recent history and how he helped Real Madrid win a title when doing so seemed impossible.

They can hold out hope that history will repeat itself, but doing so is an exercise in futility. The Galaxy's season is over, even if the circus surrounding the club is just getting started.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.