4. MLS COUNTDOWN: Galaxy can't wait around for Becks

By Ridge Mahoney
Senior Editor

The underachievers of 2006 will be the glamor boys of 2007 when David Beckham arrives, but how much the Galaxy improves this season will depend on the grunts, not the glitterati.

Goalkeeper Joe Cannon, defender Shavar Thomas and attacker Nate Jaqua were acquired by Coach Frank Yallop during the offseason to deliver solid efforts, every game, so that the stars can shine.

"We have no idea what to expect, and we've been talking about how our lives will change," says Cannon, who played the 2001 and 2002 seasons for Yallop in San Jose. "We need to get off to a great start because it's going to get hectic after [Beckham] comes with all the road games and all the demands placed on the team. Hopefully, we can weather the distractions until the playoffs and start playing well at that point."

The Galaxy will play 11 of its last 18 games on the road so the league can maximize the aura of Beckham, who is expected to debut for his new team in a friendly against Chelsea July 21. By then, the issues that plagued the Galaxy last year had best be sorted out, for it was in 2006 -- following a solid decade of postseason appearances -- Los Angeles missed the playoffs for the first time.

Yallop took over from Steve Sampson on the eve of the World Cup. Despite a winning record (9-7-5) under the former Canadian international, the Galaxy fell two points shy of a playoff spot at 11-15-6.

"I think the guys know I'm an easy-going guy, but I mean business when I come to work," says Yallop, who won titles with San Jose in 2001 and 2003 before leaving to coach Canada. "We all tend to take it easy at times, but the guys have really responded. We're focused."

Until Beckham arrives, much of the focus will be on Landon Donovan, whose impressive stats (12 goals and eight assists in 24 games) somehow just don't seem sufficient given his amazing talents. To accommodate his abilities and those of Beckham, as well as put more pressure on opponents, Yallop used a 4-3-3 formation in preseason, with Donovan tucked behind a three-man front line.

"It allows Landon to be a little freer than either playing up front or playing midfield," says Yallop. "He's in that in-between role, which is perfect for him. We have a lot of options flying around, attacking-wise."

Those options include Alan Gordon, Santino Quaranta, veteran Cobi Jones and the 6-foot-4 Jaqua, formerly with the Fire. Leadership and stability will be needed from central defender Tyrone Marshall and midfielder Pete Vagenas during a hectic whirl of tournaments and friendlies.

Jaqua and Donovan are candidates for U.S. national team duty, and so is defender Chris Albright. Left back Ante Jazic will play for Canada in the Gold Cup. Nathan Sturgis and Quavas Kirk could miss more than a month playing for the U.S. under-20s. The Galaxy will play in SuperLiga and the World Series of Soccer.

"We'll need a lot of bodies, and I told our guys I don't want our level to drop even when we're missing players," says Yallop. "That's been a problem for LA in the past."

Also a problem has been Donovan's inconsistency, if not invisibility, in many games. He's declared his commitment to club play this season, and embellished his personal life on New Year's Day by marrying actress Bianca Kajlich.

"He's happy with Frank, he's happy that I'm around," says Cannon. "He's married now and he realizes how important this season is to the organization. He really has a big passion to do well this year. With his attitude now you can't ask for anything more. He's happy, and everyone knows that a happy Landon Donovan is the best player in our league."

LOS ANGELES PRESEASON ROSTER
Goalkeepers
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

0 Steve Cronin (Los Angeles Galaxy)
1 Joe Cannon (Colorado Rapids)
30 Lance Friesz (Univ. of San Diego)
Defenders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

3 Ty Harden (Univ. of Washington)
4 Ante Jazic (Los Angeles Galaxy)
5 Chris Albright (Los Angeles Galaxy)
12 Troy Roberts (Los Angeles Galaxy)
14 Tyrone Marshall (Los Angeles Galaxy)
16 Kyle Veris (Los Angeles Galaxy)
24 Nathan Sturgis (Los Angeles Galaxy)
- Shavar Thomas (Kansas City Wizards)
Midfielders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
2 Mike Randolph (Portland Timbers)
7 Ian Russell (did not play)
8 Peter Vagenas (Los Angeles Galaxy)
13 Cobi Jones (Los Angeles Galaxy)
15 Quavas Kirk (Los Angeles Galaxy)
18 Kyle Martino (Los Angeles Galaxy)
19 Josh Tudela (Indiana Univ.)
Forwards
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
9 Gavin Glinton (Los Angeles Galaxy)
10 Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy)
11 Nate Jaqua (Chicago Fire)
20 Robert Findley (Oregon State Univ.)
21 Alan Gordon (Los Angeles Galaxy)
25 Santino Quaranta (Los Angeles Galaxy)
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