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Jul 5, 2008

Revolution shut down hapless Galaxy

CARSON, Calif. -- On Independence Day, the Los Angeles Galaxy showed how dependent they are on their top players, especially David Beckham and Landon Donovan.

The team fell behind by two goals to the New England Revolution during a miserable first half of play in which only Beckham generated the few Galaxy chances. Then Donovan, still sick from a troublesome flu that had kept him out of training all week, helped make a difference in the second half, while Beckham scored to put a draw within reach. Though the duo worked together to generate chances, the Galaxy could not make good on the opportunities, finally losing 2-1 to the top team in Major League Soccer.

Revolution coach Steve Nicol didn't think the game should have been at all close. "We should have been up four-none, and the game would have been over," said Nicol of the first half, which the Revs dominated completely.

The Revs put six shots on goal and Adam Cristman hit pay dirt twice, scoring on set-play opportunities. On the first, Cristman pounced on the rebound of a Shalrie Joseph shot, while on the second, Cristman lost his defender, Abel Xavier, and crashed in a header to pad New England's lead.

The Galaxy only managed two shots in the entire half, though neither was on goal. Beckham hit both crosses into the box to create an attacking chance, but Mike Randolph couldn't control either of his headers well enough to score.

"We were just giving the ball away to them in midfield," Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit said. "It was not good in midfield. That is the main problem for this moment with the team."

Beckham, of course, was exempted from that criticism. He had little impact on the match, but that was because he saw little of the ball. When he did have the ball at his feet, Beckham was usually able to do something with it.

That's partly why New England focused on shutting Beckham down by denying any passes in his direction. Every time Galaxy players turned to look for him, Revolution players slalomed in on tackles, closing down passing lanes and often forcing turnovers.

"They closed us down well in midfield," Beckham said. "It's always frustrating when you don't get the ball. You have to make those one or two passes work out for goals."

The midfielder nearly did that, but Randolph, who doesn't have the finishing poise of either Edson Buddle or Donovan, couldn't convert the service from Beckham.

Aside from Beckham, the Galaxy looked hapless in the half -- something not lost on Gullit.

"David was the most dangerous player for us," Gullit said. "They put an extra player on him to hold him, so that shows he was dangerous."

Even Beckham at his best needs a partner in crime, someone to add the tongs to the hammer. When Donovan entered in the second half, it energized the Galaxy. Even recovering from the flu, his touch and pace threatened the Revolution goal.

"It's always good to have your best players out there and obviously, Landon's one of the best that we've got," Beckham said. "He's been ill for two or three days and has not even trained, so it was impossible for him to start. It gave us more space to create chances."

The Galaxy players understood, from personal experience, that a two-goal lead wasn't insurmountable. They discussed at halftime how to better attack as a unit.

"We know that if we could get one goal, we could put pressure on them," Beckham said.

With Donovan on the field, defenders couldn't merely deny service to one top player. Beckham saw more of the ball, and his dangerous crosses started flying into the box with regularity.

Yet when the goal finally came, it was Beckham himself who had the finishing touch. A cross from Donovan was deflected and Beckham volleyed the ricocheting ball out of the air toward the net. A sprawling Jay Heaps deflected the ball, which blooped into the net.

"I didn't hit it as clean as I'd like to," Beckham said with a shrug.

Donovan considered the effort deceptively difficult.

"You can see how good [Beckham] is -- it was awkward, the way the ball came down," Donovan said. "He got it on goal and he got rewarded."

With a draw at least within reach, the Galaxy renewed their efforts. Beckham took his time sending a pinpoint cross to Buddle, one of the team's best finishers this season. It seemed as if the equalizer was near as Buddle unleashed a powerful shot.

"It felt good on my foot," Buddle said. "I thought it was going to go in."

Instead, the ball banged off the crossbar. The sellout crowd watched the Galaxy rally fall short.

Leaving the home fans disappointed stung Donovan, though he accepted that he and his teammates bore the blame.

"A lot of times we play here, we've gotten behind and we've had to chase, and that's hard in this league," Donovan said.

Often, Beckham has spoken of his desire to turn the Galaxy's home ground into a fortress -- one where opposing teams dread to play. A vibrant home crowd is part of such a dream, but it takes great play to whip fans into a frenzy of enthusiasm and support. A golden opportunity to enhance that bond between team and spectators was wasted, much like the Galaxy's attackers wasted Beckham's crosses.

"It's always disappointing to lose a game," Beckham said. "There was a great crowd tonight, always enthusiastic and willing us to win."

Despite their loss, the Galaxy remain the top team in the woeful Western Conference, but by only one or two points over a sizable chasing pack of contenders.

Aware of these factors, Beckham took little solace in the fact that he managed to score a goal.

"It still means nothing, because we've lost the game and that's the biggest thing," 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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