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Aug 27, 2007

Various causes for the Galaxy debacle

In all the fuss and SoCal fizzle over David Beckham, Los Angeles Galaxy officials apparently forgot the first rule of holes: When you find yourself in one, for gosh sakes, stop digging!

Things have unraveled spectacularly for Los Angeles, and the foul-ups in Galaxy Valley have become too numerous to count. Just when you think things can't get any more bizarre, they go more sideways still.

The Galaxy are certainly victims of some bad luck, cracked to the core by injury. But injury alone can't account for the depth of this mire. In many ways L.A. is the unquestioned architect of its own undoing, starting with a roster of dubious assembly.

A shell of a lineup sank meekly Sunday evening in Denver, where the Colorado Rapids never really had to leave second gear to clobber the Galaxy, 3-0. That leaves Los Angeles with three wins in 18 matches.

The "Jewel of Major League Soccer"? Did Alexi Lalas really say that about his club? The hubris of that statement now makes it look like one of the worst ideas in the long, sad history of bad ideas.

The league shares some culpability in it all. To saddle Beckham and the Galaxy with such an untenable, potentially injurious schedule was absurd to begin with. We'd be naive to think that a preposterous gantlet of games hasn't contributed to the injury decimation. But someone at AEG signed off on this schedule, right?

The trouble started as far back as January in Indianapolis. Most of the important league and club officials were in Indiana for the MLS draft when Beckham became league property. Immediately the lobbying and politicking began. Nobody wanted to miss a bite of the Beckham apple.

Owners and GMs were apoplectic at the very mention that some team -- perhaps their team -- might get tossed off the Beckham money train. They demanded his appearance in their town. So the schedule was torn up and perverted to negligent degrees, forcing the Galaxy to play 12 matches in the past six weeks, with more of the same ahead.

AEG was complicit, too, in contributing to the torrent of duress by adding friendlies to the jam-packed schedule. In addition to signing off on the MLS folly, it added matches in places like Vancouver and Minnesota, reducing the club to something just this side of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Shouldn't someone have been the "adult" here and made mature decisions -- if not the league, then someone at AEG or Beckham's handlers at 19 Entertainment, perhaps? It's comparable to a bunch of kids deciding to eat chocolate cake and drink soda pop for breakfast. In a sense, it's not their fault; there must be an adult around to say "No!"

The roster is to blame, too. The team simply has too much "not good enough" running around on the field. Alan Gordon? Not good enough. Edson Buddle? Not good enough. Any defender not named Abel Xavier or (the injured) Chris Albright? Not good enough.

Embattled manager Frank Yallop signed Carlos Pavon, then said two or three weeks later that Pavon was slow to adjust to MLS speed. Isn't that down to spotty scouting?

Chris Klein and Cobi Jones? Terrific players and wonderful representatives for years. And in the right kind of spot duty, they could proudly prevail. But they are no longer difference makers or roster cornerstones.

Klein shouldn't even be on the roster. He came from Real Salt Lake for up-and-comers Robbie Findley and Nathan Sturgis. The real kick in the head is that Klein cost the Galaxy more in salary than Sturgis and Findley combined. Meanwhile, Findley has three goals in eight games for Real Salt Lake, not a bad total for such an offensively bankrupt side.

There may be some temptation to say that Beckham's acquisition, for all the good it did in ticket sales and exposure, handcuffed the Galaxy's ability to construct a balanced roster. But Beckham counts for only half a max-salary hit since he is playing only half the season.

Yallop's expression is funereal these days. He looks gutted by it all. The Galaxy manager earned his MLS cred by guiding San Jose to titles in 2001 and 2003, so he deserves some benefit of the doubt.

But if he had some wiggle room, it disappeared last Thursday against Chivas USA when he left poor Beckham to limp around on that bad ankle for the last 20 minutes. Starting Beckham seemed harebrained enough. When the Galaxy went down 2-0 with 20 minutes remaining, failure to extract the iconic midfielder at that point was inexplicable and inane.

When has anybody seen a professional soccer player go two full matches on consecutive days? Over two continents no less!

Then Yallop announced the next afternoon that Beckham wasn't fit to play Sunday, that he needed rest. Well, no, he needed rest when he stepped off the plane Thursday afternoon following a trans-Atlantic flight.

Then this: Lalas told the Rocky Mountain News on Sunday, "We were pretty adamant that until he's close to 100 percent, it does us no good to have him running around out there. We don't need him out there just getting his picture taken."

Really? The urgency to protect him seems to come and go. Why play Beckham in that friendly against Chelsea, which surely retarded the man's recovery from injury? And why start him last Thursday against Chivas USA? Why not set him up as the 70th-minute sub, ready to swoop in as the late-match hero?

It looks as though there's no plan -- instead, important matters are being decided on the fly. Which brings us to this: When it comes to future plans, should the same people who created the problems be trusted to fix them?

Yallop's winning percentage with the Galaxy is a humble .436, just a little better than the much maligned Steve Sampson's (.431). Sigi Schmid, removed from the Galaxy sidelines in 2004, had a .528 winning percentage in L.A.

Former Chicago coach Dave Sarachan had four wins after 16 matches when he lost his job in July. Greg Andrulis had won four of 16 when he was let go in Columbus in 2005. So history says Yallop, with three wins in 18 tries this year, won't last long.

A win in Wednesday's SuperLiga final would certainly help matters. Otherwise, the buzz on this Beckham Over America tour will wear off fast.

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.