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Apr 20, 2008

Beckham, Donovan inspire comeback against Houston

CARSON, Calif. -- The day before his struggling Galaxy squad faced off against the defending champions of Major League Soccer, the Houston Dynamo, David Beckham mused about his preferred leadership style.

"When I was England captain, I wasn't a player who shouted at people," Beckham said. "When a player works hard on a team and [teammates] see that, the other people follow."

In a game that the Galaxy would ultimately tie 2-2, some type of leadership needed to be found, after a half in which the well-oiled Houston midfield dominated L.A to a 1-0 lead. (The deficit would have seemed much worse for the Galaxy if not for the heroics by goalkeeper Steve Cronin, who helped keep the score close.)

"First half -- terrible," Beckham acknowledged. "We had no fight in the first half, no urgency at all. Throw-ins, free kicks, everything was slow."

Coach Ruud Gullit pointed out that the Galaxy had to adjust on the fly due to a couple of late injuries to regular starters Ely Allen and Alvaro Pires.

Cronin's effort between the pipes was especially notable because he wasn't supposed to even play due to a groin injury. He passed a medical exam and was cleared to start just minutes before kickoff. The nerves and the changes hobbled the Galaxy, as did the precise and physical play of the Dynamo.

"It was improvising from the start with the personnel we had, and it didn't work out," Gullit said. "In the first half, we were just outplayed."

The second half was another story, one triggered by Beckham shaking off any passivity of merely leading by example. He stepped up and became more vocal towards his fellow players.

"A few words were said at halftime, by the players and the management," Beckham said. "The mentality was changed and we had a bit of fight in the game. We got ourselves back in the game."

Gullit was pleased to see the change.

"I'm very proud of my team," the Dutch-born coach said. "Landon [Donovan] and David, they really showed how big of leaders they are. I think they did everything to win this game."

It wasn't a victory, but the Galaxy did manage to salvage a draw with Houston, with Beckham providing the assist to Donovan for both goals. They certainly "walked the walk," but they also started talking more to their teammates to shake them out of the doldrums of the first half.

"Landon and David, they were saying, 'Come on! and do this,' and you could see how spirits lifted a little bit," Gullit said. "They took that out to the pitch and it was fantastic."

That left them some admirers even within their rivals from Houston.

"If you give David Beckham time -- the one thing about Landon is that his running off the ball is exceptional -- so that's a pretty dangerous situation, or combination," Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said.

Indeed, it was Donovan's runs and Beckham's delivery that gave the Houston defense fits all through the second half. Houston didn't drop its level of play, though, and even scrapped for a second goal to lead in the second half, before a final Galaxy tally.

Brad Davis, who scored the opening goal of the game, denied that Houston was especially motivated versus the Galaxy due to quotes Donovan had provided in Spanish before the match that described Los Angeles as, "the giants of MLS."

"I haven't seen that quote, but they have a good team," Davis said. "They showed it tonight, David and [Landon]."

Kinnear pointed out that the Dynamo simply wanted to win a game, after now collecting three draws this season.

"Especially these conference games -- we talk about the six-point swing," Kinnear said of the importance of the extra points. Intra-conference games are often said to be worth double the points, because one can simultaneously deny a rival advancement in the table even as one climbs.

Though the Galaxy's reputation was in complete tatters after such a poor first half, the effort in the second half, led by Donovan and Beckham, restored a measure of respect.

"[Donovan and Beckham are] going to be a good combination and that's something that the next time we play, we're going to have to pay attention to again," Davis said.

For his part, Beckham intended to keep the partnership producing goals.

"When you play with players who are intelligent, they know where to run and they know where the ball is coming," said Beckham. "My game's always about assists. It's nice to have two assists and for Landon to score."

The early signs are promising, with Donovan tallying a league-high five goals already.

"So far, good. The more David and I play together the more chances I'm going to get. I said last week if I'm getting those chances, some days they are going to go in and some days they're not," Donovan said. "It's important I'm getting those opportunities. So if we can play a little better as a team defensively, we know we're going to get those chances."

Ultimately, this match could prove a gut-check for the Galaxy. Their successful rally to salvage a point might show a new foundation the team is building around Beckham and Donovan. That might be why Gullit didn't focus on tactics or certain plays after the game.

"The most important thing I saw today was the passion that I saw," Gullit said.

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.