Galaxy struggle to cope without Beckham
CARSON, Calif. -- All around the world, the Galaxy name has been co-opted. They are now generally known as Beckham's team. Of course, Beckham has been relegated to the sidelines with an injury, leaving his team to pick up the pieces without him.
In the recent SuperLiga final, Chris Klein scored the tying goal on a gorgeous stunner of a bicycle kick to push the match to overtime. Although the Galaxy lost in the penalty-kick shootout that ensued, Klein netted his attempt successfully. All this effort took place while the Galaxy endured an arduous schedule of games.
"I can't remember the last time he's been off the field," said coach Frank Yallop of Klein after the team's latest match against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
Klein has been forced to play on the back line due to the inordinate amount of injuries the Galaxy have suffered this season. He arrived at the postgame press conference with his young son Carson in tow. Carson was wearing a Galaxy jersey, but the lettering on the back didn't bear homage to his father, despite his recent heroics for the squad. It read "Beckham" instead.
Indeed, the vast majority of Galaxy shirts worn by fans in the stands bore the name of the player who did not step onto the field. Beckham is out, perhaps for the rest of the season, with a strained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
The scenario could have been worse for L.A. Beckham avoided damage to his anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that could have ended his career.
"When I first saw [Beckham getting injured], I thought, 'Oh, boy'", said Yallop, who was enormously relieved that the notorious ACL wasn't harmed. "A medial is a medial. There's no complications or extra length of time or a meniscus tear. It's a straight strain. That's kind of the good news."
There's another small silver lining, as well.
"It will give a chance for his ankle to sort out, too, so when he comes back, he's ready to go," Yallop said.
Other than that, the outlook is grim for the Galaxy, who have only won three times this season. The team had hoped to count on Beckham's skill to help rally them to a late surge for the playoffs.
"He's one of our better players, and it's a devastating loss," said goalkeeper Joe Cannon. "At this point and time, any injury hurts us."
Yet Cannon also tried to keep the event in perspective.
"It's just one player," Cannon said. "If you're going to tell 20 other guys that their season is over because [of] some guy that has only played three or so games -- well, you can take it like that. But we still have games to play."
In fact, the Galaxy lost every one of the three league games in which Beckham played. They also defeated Pachuca in SuperLiga group play without him and managed to tie the final while Beckham was on the bench.
Despite that statistic, it's obvious that Beckham, who was recently handed the position of team captain by Landon Donovan, improves the squad. Not only that, but it's clear that he is the main draw for many fans, some of whom consider the rest of the team irrelevant.
The Galaxy had a golden opportunity to change that perception on Saturday, to prove that they were worth watching even while Beckham-less. A sold-out stadium welcomed the team despite Beckham's absence. For the first half of the game, the Galaxy performed admirably, taking an early lead and dominating Real Salt Lake.
It all unraveled in the second half. First, Landon Donovan failed to convert a penalty kick. Real subbed in rookie and former Galaxy player Robbie Findley, who attacked the defense with gusto on a counterattack and tucked away a goal, while Eddie Pope added a second for RSL minutes later. A red card to defender Troy Roberts ended a miserable 2-1 loss for the Galaxy.
In some ways, the Galaxy's lack of composure was par for the course. Many players admitted that the new attention and scrutiny on them after Beckham's signing was a distraction to the team. Once they adjusted to that, they had a punishing slew of matches to tackle.
"We've been in the thick of things every couple of days for the past two months," Klein said.
Yallop was more blunt in his assessment, saying, "They're spent, they're beat up."
Dressed in the dark Hugo Boss suits that are now the team's game-day attire, the Galaxy players appeared postgame as if they were attending a funeral. For all intents and purposes, the funeral is the Galaxy's own for the season.
Given the spate of injuries and the punishing schedule, the Galaxy could argue that they're not as poor a team as their record would indicate. However, the spotlight that comes with Beckham is unforgiving and provides unrelenting scrutiny.
The players know that their own positions with the Galaxy, as well as that of their coach, are in danger.
If any good is to come out of the Galaxy's season, it could be the bonding experience. Only the Galaxy players themselves can understand both the plus and minus of being Beckham's squad.
"Which players were able to come through the year and rise to the occasion in what we all recognize is a different and difficult environment?" Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas asked.
There were a few signs of such resolve; after all, the Galaxy played far better than Real Salt Lake for most of the match.
"If there's points at stake, you've obviously got to keep going," Klein said. "We showed [Saturday night] that we can play some great stuff in spurts."
Yallop agreed with the sentiment: "It's been a piss-poor season. But the team hasn't quit."
The L.A. players have until the end of the season to prove they belong and deserve to stay on the roster for next year.
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.