FRISCO, Texas -- David Beckham certainly wasn't imported to MLS and anointed king of Southern California soccer just to be a multimillion-dollar decoy.
Still, sometimes, it works out that way.
And who could argue the results? The Galaxy exploited a slumping home side Sunday, crushing FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park, 5-1. Road teams rarely wind up on the sunny side of these whippings; visitors have prevailed by four goals or more just 25 times in league history, or less than twice a year on average.
Odd, then, that Beckham contributed none of Sunday's goals and just one assist on the warm Texas afternoon. Nor did Landon Donovan provide any of the strikes (although the U.S. international did supply two assists and set up one own goal). That's not been the Galaxy way lately, as Beckham or Donovan had contributed 11 of 14 goals before Sunday.
But manager Ruud Gullit had recognized a soft spot in FC Dallas alignment, and tweaked his own tactics accordingly. His players worked it to perfection, with Beckham drifting smartly about, opening space around him and allowing his side to seize control early.
Los Angeles led by four goals after just 39 minutes. Edson Buddle did most of the damage, adding the Galaxy's final goal to complete his hat trick.
None of that is to say that Beckham's afternoon was uneventful. He was involved in a sideline altercation and sharp verbal exchange following a nasty and needless challenge by Dallas' Adrian Serioux. The Red Stripes' defender was quickly ejected, with Beckham cautioned for shoving Serioux in response.
"It was an important game for us, especially after last week, losing at home," Beckham said. "We had organized all week and prepared all week for this game. We knew how good they were and how they played."
Gullit, obviously not anchored rigidly to any single formation, concocted a hybrid 4-3-1-2 for the afternoon. He reintroduced Alvaro Pires, just back to health, as the deep-lying central midfielder. Joe Franchino and Brandon McDonald manned central roles in front of Pires. Franchino was nominally assigned to drift left. But since Dallas started with no wide presence to speak of on that side, Gullit had confidence that his side could get by without a true left-sided midfielder. Franchino could cheat a bit and, therefore, help outman Dallas in the middle.
Beckham was on the right as an advanced midfielder/forward. Gullit gave him ample freedom to drift inside or run in behind the forward, etc. And it worked splendidly. Dallas had tasked second-year youngster Anthony Wallace to play as a left midfielder in its 3-4-3 setup. His lone mission: Keep Beckham in check.
So when Beckham began moving around the park, he exposed big gaps.
"I think it worked very well," Gullit said. "They didn't know what to do with him. To have that possibility for him [to move into other areas] creates real problems."
Chris Klein recognized one such moment early as Beckham moved inside with Wallace attached. McDonald left the ball in space for the overlapping Klein, who was unbothered as he sped forward and beat goalkeeper Dario Sala low.
Buddle soon dribbled through a trio of static and shamefully casual defenders to put his team ahead 2-0, as the Galaxy confidence swelled. Franchino deserved kudos on No. 3; as Donovan raced down the left side, Franchino's hard run into the penalty area kept Dallas defender Duilio Davino from challenging Donovan aggressively.
Davino was forced to hold his position, so he wasn't in a good spot when Donovan fired from a harsh angle. The shot deflected off the Dallas defender's foot and past Sala, and the result was never in doubt from there.
Beckham did provide one sweet assist, preferring to cross from an angle where most players would think "shoot." His delicate chip dropped magnificently over a Dallas defender and behind Sala for Buddle, who headed it into the vacant net.
"Everybody, all the time, mentions that only Landon and David can score for us," Gullit said. "This means now that we have various players now that can score goals, so that's good."
Serioux's crunching tackle on Beckham, ironically, was at almost the exact same spot on the field where then-Galaxy man Tyrone Marshall broke Kenny Cooper's leg a year ago in similar circumstances. That match, like Sunday's, was already decided when Marshall crashed into Cooper from behind. Dallas players lamented the needless damage -- but Serioux must have seen things differently in Sunday's 75th minute.
Dallas' rugged defender upended Beckham, who had received the ball with his back to goal and who was not in a particularly dangerous spot. Beckham was cautioned when he got up and shoved Serioux.
Later, Beckham was calm and philosophical about it. He defended his reaction and subsequent caution by noting that it was a "terrible tackle," and that Serioux had chided him immediately afterward, saying "Welcome, baby, welcome." Beckham may not have felt particularly welcome, but neither did he take it personally.
"That's soccer, and these tackles happen in soccer," he said. "We don't want them in soccer. But at the end of the day, it's a man's game. You have to get up and play on and get on with the game. And we did."
Beckham even had a little fun with it all, denying that he feels targeted.
"People ask me if I've been kicked more since I've been in MLS," he said, smiling. "Well, no I haven't. I've been kicked in La Liga. I've been kicked in the Premiership. You either cry about it or you get on with it. My motto is just to get on with the game."
Like Donovan, Beckham played the entire 90 minutes, still wearing his long sleeves. (The other Galaxy field players all went with short sleeves.) Gullit wants to look for spots to get his valuable pair some rest here and there, but Sunday wasn't going to be one of them.
"We didn't have the possibility to change them," Gullit said. "We had other players with other little problems, so that wasn't a priority today."
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.