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May 25, 2008

Beckham shows scoring touch against Wizards

CARSON, Calif. -- In August of 1996, a young Manchester United midfielder began to make a name for himself on the legendary club. David Beckham struck one of the most impressive goals in years when he scored from beyond the halfway line, with a long and accurate strike that caught Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan off his line. It was a bit of a watershed moment, one which announced that a new and fearless talent had arrived to do things most players wouldn't even try.

Against the Kansas City Wizards nearly a dozen years later, Beckham struck a shot from even further out than his famous Wimbledon tally. As a helpless Kevin Hartman raced back to cover his goal after having moved upfield for a corner kick opportunity, Beckham coolly lined up a shot and his incomparable right foot delivered the ball into the empty net. This time, the message beyond the score itself might have been to all the naysayers who doubted the midfielder's ability to still produce amazing shots.

In both 1996 and 2008, Beckham scored his team's third goal, but versus Kansas City, the Galaxy rallied for the win after going down a goal in the first half. In fact, the victory moved the team to a winning record for the first time in two years. The Galaxy had spent the entire 2006 and 2007 seasons at .500 or below.

Perhaps that was why Beckham focused on the squad's accomplishments as a whole, especially in terms of finally showing a little consistency.

"It's great to get two wins in a row," Beckham said. "Our victory shows the character of the team."

This victory was the first come-from-behind win for the Galaxy this season.

"We were shooting ourselves in the foot a bit earlier, in some of these games, by not finishing our chances," said Landon Donovan, who put away a penalty kick to pull the Galaxy even in the second half.

It was no mystery to Donovan, the league's leading scorer with nine goals, about what has made a vital difference to the Galaxy this season.

"The biggest thing is that David is healthy," Donovan said.

Kansas City provided a true test for the Galaxy, as the teams entered the match with identical records. However, the Wizards play in the Eastern Conference, whose teams have proved far more dominant in league play this year. Like the Galaxy, the Wizards have invested in a designated player, Claudio Lopez. In an opening half where Kansas City dominated play with a lively passing game, Lopez scored the game's first goal on a scorching shot.

After the game Beckham was impressed with the performance of the Wizards.

"I give all the credit to KC," Beckham said. "They are the best team we have played in MLS so far."

For his part, Wizards coach Curt Onalfo praised the designated players of both squads for raising the standard of play across the league.

"Beckham, he's unbelievably great for this league," Onalfo said. "We had to adjust our game plan to deal with him. And Claudio scored a great goal. He's been great for our team. He brings an enormous amount of experience."

Of course, Beckham's veteran savvy also played a crucial part in the Galaxy rally. It was his incisive pass into the box that helped Donovan draw the tying penalty. Beckham helped orchestrate a number of Galaxy attacks until the go-ahead goal was created by Alan Gordon, Donovan and Edson Buddle. Finally, it was Beckham's ability to seize an opportunistic moment that sealed the win for the Galaxy.

"It's one thing to be aware enough to realize that Kevin Hartman was up the field, it's another thing to be on our half of the field, and strike a ball as clean as [Beckham] does," defender Chris Klein said. "[Beckham] does it 10, 15 times a day anyway, so no one's really surprised, but it was still a brilliant goal. I asked him if he realized [that the goal was unattended], and he said he did, he just needed to take an extra touch to prepare [the shot]."

Never considered primarily a goal scorer, Beckham now ranks among the MLS leaders with four league goals to his credit.

While he instinctively looks to pass the ball, Beckham, still somewhat the brash player he was back in 1996, doesn't fear to take any chance that is offered.

"Honestly, I told David, 'I'd probably put that out for a throw-in somewhere,' just because you get so excited and the ball is moving and you don't know what you're going to do," a still-incredulous Donovan said. "When [Beckham] hit it, you could just tell -- he hit it so clean. There's nobody else I'd want hitting that, for sure. Maybe goalies will think twice before coming out on him again. It doesn't help their stats."

Though Donovan has played professionally for years and is on track to earn his 100th international cap in his next start (possibly versus England and his teammate, Beckham), he admitted that he had never seen a goal scored from such a distance before, except in video excerpts.

"He was still pretty deep in our half," Donovan said.

Neither the length, nor the context of the situation deterred Beckham. Since England recalled the midfielder for international duty, he has been under more scrutiny than what is usual for him. Any error at this crucial time could provide an excuse for a benching.

"If he would miss that, then his reputation would be gone," said Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit, who then quickly clarified that he spoke in jest. "It's a joke -- David was excellent tonight. He's the captain and he showed he wants to do well for the team."

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.

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