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Jun 15, 2008

Galaxy squad starting to open people's eyes

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Through much of the Galaxy season so far, the connection that David Beckham forged with Landon Donovan was so effective, the team didn't really have to turn elsewhere. The idea was that if they did, Carlos Ruiz would likely be the next scoring option. However, that scenario overlooked Edson Buddle, the once highly-regarded striker who had turned journeyman before landing with the Galaxy. On Saturday night versus the Quakes, Buddle made sure he wasn't forgotten, scoring all three goals to push the Galaxy to victory.

Buddle had his first hat trick of the season against FC Dallas, but many considered that an aberration. The gifted forward has had such superlative performances before, scoring hat tricks with three different squads -- Columbus, New York and Los Angeles.

Yet Buddle never seemed to progress to be a consistent threat. He could appear maddeningly lazy at times, giving up on passes that didn't fall in his striking-sweet zone. That was part of the reason that teams were always willing to give him up. Now, however, his clear advancement has put a lot of those criticisms to rest. The argument can be raised that what Buddle lacked to put him on a higher level as a finisher was the service of the quality that a player like Beckham provides.

"The three goals were very good," San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. "It would be nice to have Edson on our squad."

Though San Jose was organized defensively, the attack of the Northern California team was toothless. It must have been bittersweet for Yallop to watch Buddle, a player he had brought in while he was the Galaxy coach, perform so well against him now. And because Beckham suffered various injuries last season, Buddle had little opportunity to combine with him during Yallop's tenure.

Yallop gave credit to the entire Galaxy squad, which demonstrated better movement and passing throughout the match on Saturday.

"They move the ball well in the final third," Yallop said. "You have to concentrate on David, but other players are quality as well."

Both teams were missing key players due to injuries, international duties or suspensions: The Galaxy were without Landon Donovan, Carlos Ruiz and Alan Gordon, while the Quakes lacked Kei Kamara, Nick Garcia and Peguero Jean-Phillipe.

But even with those absences the Galaxy squad didn't seem to miss a step.

One of the ways in which Beckham helps his squad is to create space for attacks. When defenders concentrate on stopping him and his service, it allows for other teammates to be free for passes and strikes.

Perhaps no player has gained confidence with that new freedom more than Buddle.

"Playing with him is an honor," Buddle said.

For Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit, it was impressive that besides Beckham, the other players provided service for Buddle's finishing strikes. Ante Jazic, Ely Allen Josh Tudela and Mike Randolph all played a part in setting up the three goals by Buddle.

It's likely, though that the influence of Beckham had an affect even on the goals he didn't directly assist. Providing a role model for ideal service to strikers is another way the star midfielder helps the Galaxy.

"The third goal, if you see how Mikey [Randolph] crossed the ball; we've practiced a lot with him," Gullit said. "That was the best example of a player who practices and then delivers."

It's not hard to see how having Beckham as a first-hand example and teacher of ball-striking could improve other players. It's much easier to "Bend It Like Beckham" if Beckham himself is alongside, giving tips.

The teaching role is one that Beckham has embraced willingly.

"I have got that experience," Beckham said. "I'm pleased to be a player that other players can come up to and ask advice. That's the biggest thing with young players in MLS -- the listening and the learning."

L.A. seems to be rolling merrily along in their learning curve. The defensive effort the team put forth provided goalkeeper Steve Cronin with his second shutout of the season. The Galaxy, perhaps remembering how a comfortable 3-0 lead over Colorado last week quickly changed to a tight 3-2 win, did not lapse late in the match. Buddle nearly scored a fourth goal as the team stayed disciplined and kept the pressure on.

"If you give a team like L.A. a chance in our defensive third, they're going to make you pay," Yallop said.

That concerted effort reflects the philosophy of Gullit and Beckham himself to include all the players on the field, a united pushback effort against the media who label the Galaxy as a squad of just a few stars and mostly scrubs. As the level of play improves across the board and other players step up, it's no longer what Beckham accomplishes that is unexpected.

"David is playing well," Yallop said. "There's no surprises there."

Instead, others on the Galaxy squad are showing improvement and opening eyes. Beckham highlighted the team's improved consistency and was optimistic enough to look for more, even from the game's latest hero.

"Edson is an individual who is getting better at the game," Beckham said. "He's proved that tonight." Still, more than emphasizing any one person, Beckham kept coming back to the lesson of the whole being stronger than the parts.

"Of course there are great players on the team, but it's all about teamwork, and that's what we've got," he 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.

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