Refocused Galaxy win season series against Chivas USA
CARSON, Calif. -- It's a minor trophy, probably one of the most inconsequential, even on Major League Soccer's reduced scale. Yet after a difficult 2007, in which David Beckham suffered through injuries and his Galaxy team not only missed the playoffs but also failed to win any kind of trophy, even the small satisfaction of claiming the SuperClasico title via a 2-2 draw with Chivas USA was savored.
It was a sweet moment, partly due to the recent tension and unhappiness the Galaxy have suffered with their winless streak (now at eight games), the resignation of coach Ruud Gullit and the firing of general manager Alexi Lalas.
"It's been a tough couple of weeks," Beckham said. "We're happy to win the SuperClasico. Now we've got to put everything behind us and move on."
At the start of the match, it seemed that was exactly what the Galaxy had done. Under the guidance of interim coach Cobi Jones, a Galaxy icon, the players came out focused and immediately looked dangerous on the attack, creating numerous chances. It wasn't a surprise when the first strike fell to Landon Donovan for his league-leading 14th goal of the season. Nor was it a shock that Beckham had started the play that led to the opening tally with his precision passing.
"We weren't really sure of ourselves, and the Galaxy were sharper out there," Chivas USA coach Preki said in describing the first half.
However, as has happened so often this season, the Galaxy wasted other opportunities to extend their lead, going to halftime with only that goal. Another characteristic that has marked this team all season has been its inconsistency. True to form, the Galaxy wilted in the second half as Chivas fought back.
Atiba Harris and Paulo Nagamura scored the next two goals, putting the win and full points within Chivas' reach.
"Strongest point was us as a team in the first half," Beckham said. "Weakest was us in the second half."
It's possible the team was distracted during the second half, as word spread quickly that the team ownership of AEG, headed by Tim Leiweke, had invited Bruce Arena, the former U.S. national team coach, to the game. It was a significant signal Arena might be asked to take the Galaxy coaching job.
Beckham seemed less interested in who was taking over the leadership spot than he was in raising team morale.
To that end, nothing did more to give the Galaxy a boost than substitute Alan Gordon's injury-time header, which he powered into goal to salvage the draw, split the points and claim the derby title.
"It's huge, because we ended up drawing the game instead of losing it," Beckham said. "It's important that we showed that fight."
There's something special about goals scored in stoppage. It's a bit like living on borrowed time, and the Galaxy players probably felt a bit like they had cheated death. For a team that has been under the gun all season, it was a chance to smile just a bit and remember what makes the beautiful game so exciting.
"The biggest thing is to enjoy playing," Beckham said, recalling the difficult strain of the team turmoil. "It's been stressful for the players."
Thing is, whether the Galaxy bring in Arena or not, they still are not out of the woods. Currently, they are out of the playoffs, and splitting points with Chivas USA made up almost no ground on the squads ahead of them.
Yet Jones, for one, wasn't complaining, not when the squad still is reeling from the double departure from the club's administration.
"With everything that has happened with the team, I don't think it's bittersweet," Jones said.
Changes most certainly will follow the appointment of a new coach, which will give the Galaxy more adjustments to make. And part of the team's problem has been a revolving door of players that makes it difficult for the squad to establish a rhythm.
"I definitely think that we've got the quality on the team," said Beckham, even as he acknowledged the major problem. "It's about coming together. It's not happened in this team."
Team solidarity might be on the rise, though. Even when the match got physical, the Galaxy remained focused on the main prize. Harris took Beckham off his feet near the end of the match. It seemed like a card should have followed such a play, but Beckham bounced back up to take the free kick with little fuss, trying to set up a scoring chance.
The Galaxy captain also showed off his versatility, moving into the middle to set up more chances for the squad. Although he wasn't directly involved in the play that led to the draw, it was Beckham's probing crosses that had the Chivas defense backpedaling numerous times.
In the main, what the team regained under his leadership was its thirst for competition. Putting the off-field drama behind them, the Galaxy fought for local pride and discovered anew that even small triumphs matter and hopefully will lead to bigger ones.
"Everyone was pumped up for this game," Beckham said. "As much as we have not won the game tonight, we have to take heart from the way we went into the game and the way prepared for the game, and what it meant 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 email@example.com.