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Winning is only solution to L.A. soap opera
by Ridge Mahoney, July 13th, 2009 4PM

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Monday is the first day David Beckham will train with the Galaxy since leaving on his self-created long-term loan deal to AC Milan, and already he's playing the victim.

He commented last week that statements made by Landon Donovan questioning his commitment and professionalism were unprofressional, and that he and Donovan at some point speak about it privately. For his part, Donovan expressed regret at venting his frustrations to author Grant Wahl, whose book "The Beckham Experiment" has already generated significant buzz and hits the shelves tomorrow.

All this apologizing and sniping has generated valuable coverage and publicity, not only for the book - which considering the author and material can't be anything less than compelling - but the Galaxy itself. Somewhat quietly it has lifted itself into the playoff slots with a 5-3-9 record and is one of three teams sitting in the 7th, 8th and 9th rungs of the ladder with 24 points.

"He [Bruce Arena] definitely did his research," said attacker Mike Magee, one of nearly a dozen players brought in during the offseason by Coach Bruce Arena. "He got some guys from his past that he trusts and we haven't really skipped a beat on how we are in the locker room. It's translated onto the field."

Beating archrival Chivas USA, 1-0, Saturday should be something to savor, but little aside from the goal by Edson Buddle and a nice moments from Landon Donovan enthralled the crowd at Home Depot Center on Saturday. Yet for the second straight game, Josh Saunders - filling in for starting keeper Donovan Ricketts - posted a shutout as the league's worst defense of 2008 strides steadily toward respectability.

"Sometimes on the field we're still not sure quite what to do because we haven't played together that long but in terms of fighting and battling for each other, it's second to none," says Magee.

Yet can that battling spirit be retained now that Beckham, the "model professional" who bolted from his employer following clandestine arrangements and did everything he could not to come back, is back in the fold?

 

When fit and committed, he's an asset; can he fit into a locker room and a team he so disdained he fled, and can he regain respect from players who felt much the way Donovan did? His comments triggered the sharpest response, yet even a staunch loyalist like Chris Klein had a few criticisms of Sir Becks.

This whole mess might not have happened if AEG had taken a closer look at its flagship soccer team, as in the team, you know the field and the balls and the goals, and the players and the games, that stuff that happens outside the boardroom and corporate jets?

Had he been captain, Donovan would have called a team meeting to hash out this stuff last year. But he gave up the captaincy to Beckham, who apparently didn't ask to be captain but instead upon the request of his handler and best friend was given the armband. And despite the team's problems and his angst didn't feel the need to call such a meeting. Beckham did, however, find the time and resources to cut a backdoor deal with AC Milan.

Now just about everybody is in a tight spot.

Beckham has a few more months to endure before he can exercise his buyout clause, but will he want to shell out a few millions without a guarantee from AC Milan it will repay him that sum as well as a nice salary?

Can he really put aside his hurt feelings and excel on the field? Donovan has to make nice and drive the Galaxy into the playoffs while keeping the USA on course for a 2010 World Cup spot. Arena has to keep everything in balance.

There's no secret to the solution. It's winning. Teams that win rarely gripe very much, about anything, no matter how deep the rifts between factions, or jealousies between players. Losing rubs the nerves raw and blows every small spark into a brushfire.

In the case of the Galaxy, of course, there's that middle ground of tying, which it did nearly every week earlier in the season but has rectified recently by winning three straight by 1-0 scores.

That result might not be what league executives and TV viewers want when the Galaxy plays at the Meadowlands Thursday against the Red Bulls, the last MLS team coached by Arena before he took the Galaxy job and perhaps the only team more dysfunctional than his.

Also eligible to play for the Galaxy in New York is Trinidad & Tobago midfielder Chris Birchall, whose midfield impact might be the more prominent as Beckham works himself back into game shape.

Magee believes that once the initial firestorm of Beckham's return blows over, the Galaxy can get back to business even though it won't be business as usual.

"Since I've arrived, it's been great," says Magee, who played six years in New York - including one and a half seasons with Arena - before coming west. "Not all of the results have gone our way but I think Bruce has done an incredible job of getting a great group of guys, both young and old, who have come together and buy into how he wants this organization to run."

"I wasn't here last year, but I can tell you from talking to the guys who were here, the attitude has changed."

That bodes well for the Galaxy, if all such attitudes are aligned.

 



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