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May 11, 2008

Beckham subdued against the Red Bulls

CARSON, Calif. -- David Beckham may be on a level far above that of most of his peers in Major League Soccer, but he has not yet ascended to a plane that spares him any criticism.

Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit made this abundantly clear after the team's 2-1 loss to Red Bull New York.

"Today, not all the senior players were having a good game," said the former Dutch great, who bemoaned the ease with which the Galaxy conceded the winning goal in the 78th minute. New York scored merely seconds after the Galaxy had scrapped their way to a 1-1 tie, courtesy of an Alan Gordon strike.

"You need players who tell everyone, 'Stay tight, go a little bit backwards and do your job,'" said Gullit.

Gullit didn't single out his team captain, David Beckham. However, if a coach is mentioning that his squad needs more vocal guidance, it's easy to deduce that "strong and silent" isn't working for Gullit.

It was comical and yet at the same time sadly disconcerting to watch the Galaxy yield a goal while the celebratory confetti from their own strike was still falling.

Yet it wasn't entirely surprising. The Galaxy have been in a similar spot before and have fallen apart, perhaps at least partly because of their own ambition. An earlier match this season saw the Galaxy play well for the majority of the match, but the work to twice draw level versus Toronto FC was all for naught when Jeff Cunningham uncorked an impressive counterattack and brought home the full three points for his team.

At the time, Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan bemoaned the attitude among some teammates that a draw was unacceptable. He believed the team should have been more conservative in protecting its slight lead.

This time, the Galaxy faced a motivated New York team that was pumped up by the sellout crowd in L.A.

"For us, [game atmosphere] is the best thing," said Juan Pablo Angel, the author of the winning goal.

The crowds for games in New York are typically half the size of the announced sellout of 27,000 at the Home Depot Center in Carson. It's not surprising that the Red Bull players reacted well to the pressure of the crowd. When the teams clashed in New York last season, the Red Bulls pulled out a 5-4 win in a seesaw battle in front of around 60,000 fans.

"The majority of [MLS] stadiums should be full," insisted Angel.

As Gullit can attest, however, things don't always turn out the way they should.

"You see the possibility [for an attack on goal] and you tell them, 'OK, use your head,' and then you give a goal away immediately after that,'" said Gullit. "That is frustrating. It's a little bit lack of leadership in moments like that. That costs you the game. It's a pity."

Gullit smiled a little wistfully when asked if the match left him wishing he could rejoin the playing ranks.

"The moment -- you see it coming," acknowledged Gullit. "If you were there, you would know what to do in those situations. But that is because you have more experience."

As former captain of the English national team, David Beckham has plenty of experience, but he has to deal with unusual elements in MLS now.

For example, Beckham has to cope with teammates who keep missing his trademark crosses. In another sequence, when it finally seemed a teammate had made the perfect run, Beckham uncharacteristically knocked the pass way high. It was that sort of night.

"We created chances, but in other games we've created more," Beckham stated. "Obviously, when teams are clever enough to stop certain plays, we have to find other ways to get around them, and tonight we couldn't find that. It was just one of those nights."

Gullit also believed the Galaxy had slid backward in form.

"They battled well; I don't think they played well," said Gullit of his players. "It's a pity. It's frustrating because the team has possibilities. They can play very good football in a game."

In the first half, Beckham dropped back several times, making defensive plays so often that it was easy to forget that he's an attacking player. In the second half, he camped out on the right wing, waving his hands in vain on various occasions to try to entice a pass out of the Galaxy defenders or midfielders. Beckham might have gone too far in his attempt to jump-start the Galaxy attack by moving forward.

"He played a little too far up," said Gullit. "When you're too far up, it makes it easy to mark, especially when your right back and left back have to play against two players who were very quick."

Beckham acknowledged that his coach had a point.

"It's always frustrating where you're not getting the ball," said Beckham. "There were certain situations where I might have been too forward, but then, first half, there were situations where I was having to go look for the ball."

One aspect of MLS parity that Beckham is probably still adjusting to is an understanding of how to manage a result versus dangerous, athletic players who can counterattack very quickly. It may be more glamorous to take home winning points, but the humiliation of getting nothing for an exhausting effort at home stings worse.

The match left Beckham philosophical about the situation. He allowed that he was still learning how to mold his game to help the Galaxy find success.

"I was just trying to look forward as much as possible, get the ball upfield as much as possible and look for that killer pass or the goal," said Beckham. "So there were points where I was probably playing too high, but there were probably points where I was playing too deep or going inside too much. That's soccer, it happens."

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.