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Jun 8, 2008

Beckham and the Galaxy triumph in wacky game

CARSON, Calif. -- Weird, strange and odd wouldn't be enough to describe the Galaxy's 3-2 win over the Colorado Rapids. The shifts in momentum were too unexpected. The twists in the plot were too drastic and the random happenings were downright freaky.

"Crazy," summed up Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit. "It was a crazy game."

Things started out so well for the Galaxy. With David Beckham back from international duty and in the lineup, L.A. jumped out to an early lead. In the fifth minute, Beckham sent a long free kick into the box, where the ball pinged off Edson Buddle, leaving Alvaro Pires with the chance to poke the ball into the net.

This season, the Galaxy have struggled to start matches well, so the early goal was a turnaround for them. It was also something of a relief to Gullit, who was a bit bewildered that the game was even being played. He protested even after his squad had secured the victory.

"Landon Donovan isn't here," Gullit said. "It's really hard for me to still play while your players are having international duties. Normally, you have a break or something like that. That break would be perfect also for your players. In Europe, you play a lot of games, like here, but here you also have a lot of traveling. It costs a lot of energy, with time difference and all these kinds of things. It would have been nice if we had a break in the period when they play international games. Unfortunately, it's not like that."

The Galaxy didn't appear weary in the first half, adding to their lead in the 32nd minute when Buddle ran onto a pass from Abel Xavier and put the ball away past Rapids goalkeeper Preston Burpo.

It might have been that the Galaxy were especially motivated against Colorado. Not only did the Rapids humiliate the Galaxy 4-0 in the season opener, a match in which both Beckham and Donovan participated, but this Colorado team also defeated the Galaxy in U.S. Open Cup qualification while the duo were on international duty, knocking them from that competition.

"I think that we felt that we owed them in a certain sense," Beckham said. "First game of the season, they did beat us and it was an embarrassing loss. Mentally, it gets in players' heads."

Colorado, meanwhile, might have been distracted by their shorts. The airline the team flew misplaced some of the organization's luggage, leaving them without the bottoms of their uniforms. Chivas USA, the other local MLS squad, loaned the club blue shorts. The result was as mismatched as the Rapids' play in the first half.

Yet it was the Galaxy who appeared to catch a break as the half ended. Alan Gordon clearly stomped on Rapids captain Facundo Erpen, which led referee Kevin Stott to reach immediately for a red card, which would have given the Rapids a man advantage. Yet after a slight delay, the stadium Jumbotron displayed a replay of the incident, one which clearly showed Erpen kicking Gordon in the groin first. Stott held up a red card for Erpen as well, leaving coach Fernando Clavijo furious.

"I thought it was illegal for the Galaxy to show the replay in the stadium," Clavijo said. "I don't justify it if Facundo did something. But it's obvious that the referee did not see it."

Yet according to Gullit, the visual played no part.

"[Stott] just wanted to talk with his linesman about it," Gullit said. "He told me [the replay] had nothing to do with his decision. He told me it was a coincidence."

As much as the Galaxy have proven capable of scoring this season, the squad has often been unable to do so without Beckham and Donovan. Against the Rapids, Beckham proved to be enough of a leader to guide the team to triumph. Though he didn't get an assist on his team's final goal, on an opportunistic attack by Ely Allen, Beckham's movement and passes created space for his teammates to perform well.

Inevitably, as it has all season long, the Galaxy letdown came.

"We stopped playing our football," Beckham said. "We kept on giving the ball away and it made it a difficult game. When they've got players like they've got on their team, they are going to create chances and they did."

As Allen sat down on the bench in the 65th minute, he was merely content to have scored his first goal in league play. Yet that comfortable 3-0 lead did not last long. Colin Clark scored in the 73rd minute, and Herculez Gomez added another in the 82nd.

"This team will always keep trying," Clark said.

The Galaxy were pinned back in their own half while Colorado probed for the equalizer. The entire Galaxy team looked tired, barely able to connect more than a couple of passes. Beckham dropped to the defensive line, once clearing an incisive cross with a flick of his head. Corner after corner for Colorado left the Galaxy fans shaken.

"I was a little nervous," Allen acknowledged. "I put the towel over my head, closed my eyes with five minutes left, but you have to put trust in your teammates, and I did. 3-1, I was like 'OK, one goal.' 3-2, I was like 'uh, OK.' When the referee finally blew the whistle, it was a big relief."

In fact, the momentum was so clearly on the side of the Rapids that Gullit felt it necessary to remind the media of something vital after the match.

"We won the game," Gullit said. "We're getting questions as if we lost. But we won the game."

Allen was certainly willing to look on the bright side of things.

"We'd like the scoreline to be 3-nil, but a 3-2 makes me have the game-winning goal, which is also good," Allen said. "A win's a win, and I think that's put us in first place."

The final bizarre aspect of the match was a fan charging the field in stoppage time, headed straight for Beckham.

"I was slightly concerned when I saw him running at me, because he didn't have a smile and he wasn't wearing a Galaxy shirt," Beckham said. "I didn't know if he was coming to give me a hug or something else. But those things happen in games all over the world. Luckily, he was just going to give me a high-five and that was all."

The fan was subdued by Beckham's own bodyguard, arrested and later given a lifetime stadium ban.

Gullit, however, didn't think his star was being targeted.

"It happened also in Toronto," Gullit said of the fan interference. "David was not there. People want attention."

Clavijo, for one, wanted to see his team get the attention he felt they deserved for battling back. He didn't see the Galaxy team as having progressed that much from the start of the season.

"They had a bad night [in the season opener] and nobody gave the credit to Colorado and I thought the credit was due," Clavijo said. "But in both games I see a very good team in L.A."

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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