CARSON, Calif. -- David Beckham had never gone as long without a win as he did this season with the L.A. Galaxy. Although he wasn't always available for matches, usually thanks to absences for international duty with England, the club went through 12 league games before finally securing an emphatic 5-2 victory at home Saturday night over D.C. United.
"That's tough on the team, confidence-wise," Beckham said before the game. "It's a must-win game this weekend. If we want to get to the playoffs, we've got to start here."
Amazingly, the Galaxy still have a chance to advance to postseason play, although they face some of the league's best teams in the closing games of their schedule.
After so many losses, the psyche of the team was at a collective low point before the game versus D.C. The coaching change from Ruud Gullit to Bruce Arena only added to the adjustments the team had to make.
"The training has been pretty good," Beckham said of working with Arena. "We've worked hard. The players are confident in training. It's just taking that into a game."
It didn't look as if any of Arena's lessons had sunk in when the Galaxy gave up the game's opening goal in the second minute of the match on a Devon McTavish strike from a corner kick.
"I nearly walked out of the stadium," said a distraught Pete Vagenas, the Galaxy veteran who started the game on the bench.
But then, the Galaxy rallied to score three goals in the first half.
Beckham might have triggered an increased feistiness in his team that set off the goal-scoring binge. He was shoved near midfield and protested the noncall so vigorously that he drew a yellow card. The emotional exchange seemed to snap the Galaxy players from their funk.
"Things like that, when it happens to a teammate, it gets me fired up," Beckham observed. "If it takes me getting angry and getting a yellow card to turn the team's attitude around, then great."
The Galaxy pulled level when Landon Donovan raced inside the box for an opportunistic goal. Beckham then assisted on Donovan's second goal of the game. Striker Alan Gordon put a rebound into the net to send the Galaxy to the halftime break with a two-goal lead.
But D.C. United didn't lie down and give up. Thabiso Khumalo scored in the second half to cut the Galaxy's lead to a single goal.
Beckham again affected the game apart from scoring goals when he stole a ball from D.C. United defender Marc Burch. As the two tussled for the ball near the sideline, Burch kicked Beckham on the leg and Beckham pitched forward. Yet when referee Terry Vaughn raced over and pulled out a red card, Beckham did something unusual. He protested on behalf of his opponent.
"I said that I didn't think it was a red card," Beckham explained. "I lost my balance. [The referee] didn't want to change his mind."
Indeed, it seemed briefly that Beckham might get another yellow for dissent, but teammates intervened to calm things down.
"It's something that I can't control," Beckham said of his emotional outbursts. "I'm passionate about winning and I hate losing. The last few months have been tough, and it's very frustrating."
It's notable that as much as he wanted desperately to win, Beckham spoke up for a rival in the interest of fairness.
Although D.C. United was still able to create a few chances, the Galaxy put the game away on goals by substitute Vagenas and yet another goal by Donovan.
Beckham was relieved that his club climbed slightly in the league standings, but he wasn't overly impressed with his own game.
"It was all right," Beckham said. "More importantly, it was the team's performance that was good. For me, it's not about my performance. If I can make assists and set people up and create chances, then my job is done. I did that tonight. I know I can play better, but I've definitely played worse."
In fact, Beckham played considerably worse in the last league game for Los Angeles, a 2-0 loss to the Kansas City Wizards. Arena put the blame for that outcome on himself. The Galaxy coach explained that he knew Beckham wasn't at full fitness after so much international travel, and he probably should have given his star a break.
Arena was looking to the future after the triumph over D.C. United.
"I'm certainly pleased with the three points, but there are certainly areas for improvement," Arena said.
Indeed, a win over a depleted D.C. United team still doesn't make the Galaxy look like a convincing shot to reach the playoffs. But the team has enough talent to be a dangerous opponent for anyone, especially if they finally are beginning to jell as a squad.
"We've had a great week of practice," Beckham said. "We've worked hard since Bruce came in, and that's what paid off tonight more than anything else."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.