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Aug 30, 2007

Beckham's absence a crushing blow for the Galaxy

CARSON, Calif. -- The sum of all fears came to pass for the Los Angeles Galaxy on Thursday with the news that midfielder and cash cow David Beckham will miss six weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

Beckham had an MRI on Thursday that revealed the full extent of the damage. A Galaxy spokesman refuted an earlier report that Beckham had also undergone arthroscopic surgery.

Coming on the heels of the Galaxy's heartbreaking defeat to Pachuca in the SuperLiga final, L.A. now finds itself forced to do without the star midfielder for much of what remains of the regular season, and at least on the field, the development is borderline devastating.

Currently residing in last place in the Western Conference, 13 points out of the eighth and final playoff spot, the Galaxy has looked twice the team when Beckham has been in the lineup. Not only was he present for the side's only win in the last month -- a 2-0 SuperLiga semifinal victory over D.C. United -- but even in defeat, and despite only being partially fit, Beckham's presence made the Galaxy a more competitive outfit.

With Beckham now sidelined, more of the creative burden will have to fall on Landon Donovan, whose psyche must still be reeling from his failure to deliver during Wednesday's penalty kick shootout, when his potentially game-winning attempt was saved by Pachuca goalkeeper Miguel Calero.

Such has been the extent of L.A.'s injury crisis that head coach Frank Yallop has at times lined Donovan up on the right side of midfield. When Beckham was available it made more sense, but if the Galaxy are to salvage anything from this sad season, it's now imperative that they find a way to get Donovan as many touches as possible. And given the number of times Pete Vagenas kept passing the ball to the opposition on Wednesday, lining up Donovan in a central midfield role becomes even more imperative, no matter what his mental state is.

Whether Donovan and the rest of his teammates are up to the challenge is an open question. Earlier matches from this year would indicate no, but following Beckham's departure against Pachuca after just 30 minutes, the team delivered perhaps its most courageous performance of the season. Of course, the trick is duplicating that effort without the adrenaline rush that accompanies a cup final. A league schedule containing eight games in the month of September will give the Galaxy precious little time to recover. It will also give Yallop limited practice time to develop more cohesion along a back line that was continually bailed out by goalkeeper Joe Cannon on Wednesday.

That assumes of course that Yallop will still be around. In some quarters, his departure is a foregone conclusion, although the way his team fought for him on Wednesday leads me to believe that Yallop's position is safe, at least for the moment.

Off the field, the public relations hit taken by the Galaxy, and by extension MLS, will be considerable. It won't matter how many times Don Garber and Co. utter the words "five-year contract." The move to bring Beckham stateside will be viewed by many as nothing more than a publicity stunt along the lines of Freddy Adu.

However, it's doubtful that those critics were ever going to stick around for the long haul. Beckham, when he played, clearly captured the attention of soccer fans that had heretofore ignored MLS. A healthy Beckham, whether it's this season or next, will still have drawing power, although some mending of fences with the ticket-buying public, especially those who bought four-game packages, will have to take place.

As for Beckham himself, the silver lining in all of this is that this latest injury will now force the Galaxy to give him the rest that his body so desperately needs. The L.A. brass has been downright negligent in its handling of Beckham, with Yallop admitting the folly of playing his midfielder for 90 minutes against Chivas USA on Aug. 23, just 30 hours after a similar stint for England. The transatlantic gymnastics that Beckham looked set to endure for England's Euro 2008 qualifiers on Sept. 8 and 12 will now also be avoided.

By the time Beckham returns, probably on Oct. 13 against Toronto, the Galaxy's playoff fate will likely be already sealed. And the hope is that it will be accompanied by a longer-term view this time.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.