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Feb 21, 2008

Galaxy newcomers still adjusting to the pace

It might seem a drastic solution to the club's woes, but if the Galaxy are looking to put the poor results of the past two years behind them, it makes some sense to set up a fresh start. That might explain the host of new prospects gaining playing time during the Galaxy's opening game in the Pan-Pacific Championship.

In the 1-0 loss to Gamba Osaka, David Beckham went the distance in a match that saw nearly all of the Galaxy's young draft picks and trialists get playing time alongside one of the world's top players.

It was a huge adjustment for some.

"Balls coming in from Beckham are a lot different from a college team," rookie Ely Allen said. "You have to get used to how to hit the ball. You have to get used to the positioning and the timing."

There were in fact stretches of play from the Galaxy that were downright amateurish, though perhaps the inexperience of the players wasn't the only reason.

"It was hard working on that turf," midfielder Josh Tudela said. "We have a couple of injuries right now, so we try to practice on grass. This was the first day for us to play on it and it was really hard to start the game off. In the second half, we settled down and got our legs going."

Perhaps eager to see what fresh faces could bring to the squad, coach Ruud Gullit did not play several Galaxy stalwarts during the match. Landon Donovan was out with a slight tendon injury. Pete Vagenas, Abel Xavier, Kevin Harmse and Mike Randolph, all key contributors last season, did not make the bench. Midfielder Kyle Martino didn't even make the trip, leaving open the possibility that the club will trade him.

"We have some guys that we didn't want to put on AstroTurf," midfielder Chris Klein explained. "That ruled out about 10 guys. Guys that had a little back pain, or something else -- nothing major, we just didn't want to put them on that surface."

Pan-Pacific Championship
Feb. 23
Third-place match
Los Angeles vs. Sydney Honolulu
11 p.m. ET (ESPN360)

Final
Houston vs. Gamba Honolulu
1:30 a.m. ET (ESPN Classic, ESPN360)

Undoubtedly, Gullit also wished to see what the untested players would bring. Unsurprisingly, the hustle they exhibited didn't overcome the poor passing and finishing that was often displayed. Though Beckham often looked more than a bit annoyed when his passes were wasted, he did his best to encourage his teammates.

"He said we should just go out there and have fun," Allen said. "It's our first big game of preseason."

Taking inspiration from the nonstop professional effort of their captain, the Galaxy improved considerably as the match progressed.

"Beckham brings out the best in everybody," Tudela said. "He's an amazing player. You know if you're in trouble, you can always get him the ball and he'll make something happen."

Considering his injury problems last season, it is notable that Beckham played for so long on such a poor surface.

"He's got that fire and competitive spirit that we really missed last year," Klein said. "To see him go 90 minutes in a game that wasn't that important shows how committed he is to this organization and this team."

While Beckham's spot on the team is obviously assured, the Galaxy roster is currently in a state of flux with many recent arrivals. Some of the new faces will be asked to help bring an infusion of energy and optimism to the table.

"We all have a common goal," said striker Bryan Jordan, who played for the Portland Timbers last year. "There's some new blood that's dedicated and motivated to do well. Mix in that with some veterans and I think the combination can be a deadly force."

Gullit still has time to blend that formula together. The performances in the rest of the preseason will help him make those decisions.

"At this point in the season, we don't even know what formation we're going to be in," Klein said. "We're still building our team. This was just the start of the climb. I think the young guys got a little taste of what the next level can be; the speed of play and how you have to think quicker, especially on AstroTurf, and I think it was good for them."

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.