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Nov 4, 2007

Beckham eyes a return to England's lineup

CARSON, Calif. -- David Beckham was going against the current at the Home Depot Center for Sunday's charity match to raise funds for victims of the recent California wildfires. The Galaxy were playing Hollywood United -- a team of celebrities and some celebrated ex-soccer players (actor Anthony LaPaglia and ex-France international Franck Leboeuf were among those in the lineup).

Such a match is usually played in a lighthearted exhibition style where hardly anyone defends. The score was indeed a gaudy 12-4 in favor of the Galaxy by the game's end and the event raised $100,000 for the cause.

Yet eager to improve his fitness before the latest round of national team matches for England -- where it is widely speculated that he will take part -- Beckham didn't give any indication of taking the match lightly. He chased balls, made connecting passes, scored twice from long range, and served up three assists throughout the game. At one point, he made a long run from the midfield to collect a Cobi Jones pass for an attack on goal.

Beckham's obvious pleasure at being able to perform and play still couldn't disguise his lingering dissatisfaction with the end to the Galaxy's season.

"We didn't reach the playoffs, and that's disappointing for many of us," Beckham said. "We know we're better than that and we've got to be better than that next season. It's up to us to put things right."

The Galaxy's failure to reach the postseason wasn't the only blow to the team recently. Frank Yallop, L.A.'s coach, announced after the charity game that he was leaving to coach the expansion San Jose Earthquakes, the squad he had previously guided to two championships.

"We felt that he was the right man," Beckham said. "We're sad to see him leave."

The coaching change leaves Beckham and his squad in a state of limbo. He was unsure as to who would guide the team in the future.

"It's not my decision," Beckham said. "We'll have to wait and see."

The priority in Beckham's mind right now is regaining top fitness for England with national team coach Steve McClaren in Los Angeles to assess him.

"I saw him yesterday," Beckham said. "It was important for me to get a good workout tonight. It's probably the best I've felt for quite a few months now. I've been working hard outside of the game trying to get myself fit."

Richard Gough, the former Scotland great who participated in the charity match, was not surprised that Beckham could still be in McClaren's plans.

"He's still one of the great players for England," Gough said. "England's not got too many great players at the moment."

Despite the fact that some consider England's qualification to the European Championships a lost cause since it lost to Russia 2-1 in its last match, Beckham is still eager to contribute.

"I want to be involved in every game possible, but I've got to get my fitness right," he said. "I can't put myself up for selection if I'm not a 100 percent fit, or at least 90 percent fit or 95 percent fit."

He was fit enough on Sunday to inflict a hard tackle on Frank Leboeuf, with whom he had tangled back in his Manchester United days when Leboeuf played for Chelsea.

"He tried to make a nutmeg on me," a somewhat surprised Leboeuf said. "That pissed me off. The tackle, I don't care. I've been tackling many players in my life, so that's alright if they tackle me."

The Galaxy's absence from the playoffs robbed Beckham of crucial games that could have helped his match fitness, leaving open the possibility of a return abroad to gain such experience, perhaps on a loan arrangement.

"The Galaxy don't have a problem with that," Beckham said. "They know I've got to keep fit for the England games that are coming up."

However, aside from his international duties, Beckham still has upcoming obligations to his club team. With or without a new coach, the Galaxy have exhibition games scheduled in Vancouver, Canada; Minnesota; Sydney, Australia; and Wellington, New Zealand.

At each of those places, Beckham will likely continue to defend the move he made to join the MLS team.

"He could have stayed in Europe a couple of more seasons," Gough said, voicing a common opinion. "I think he's going to miss the atmosphere of a Real Madrid or a Man United."

The midfielder insisted that he was glad to be with the Galaxy.

"There's a lot of great players in this team, a lot of great character in this team" Beckham said.

Leboeuf wasn't surprised to see Beckham being the consummate professional for his squad, both on and off the field.

"He's trying to prove that he's completely involved with the Galaxy," Leboeuf said. "Every game you play, you have to be 100 percent. You have a contract. You have to give your best to the people who paid their tickets. He has a big image, maybe the biggest image in the world in soccer, so he has to give his best all the time."

No matter what Beckham faces on and off the field, that's probably what he will continue to do.

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 soccercanales@yahoo.com.