When - if? - Beckham returns, then what?

Let us assume that, come the end of February, David Beckham manages to remember that he is a Galaxy player, and that he bids a tearful farewell to his new AC Milan colleagues and returns to Los Angeles.

Then what? Will he find a massively recreated team full of exciting new players, a team that will banish the pretty awful memories of the Galaxy from the past two years? Putting that question another way, has Bruce Arena been working his magic and building a competitive team?

I've been looking at the current Galaxy roster. Beckham plus 31 others. But that includes Landon Donovan, who may well not be returning from Bayern Munich. That would be a huge loss for Arena, for Donovan has been the Galaxy's best player, by far -- better than Beckham, more productive than Beckham.

The biggest problem that I'm looking at here, though, is not so much the players who may or may not be leaving, but the players whom Arena is bringing in. Frankly, it is not an impressive list.

Two years ago Arena was engaged in the same activity -- he was trying to build a new image for the New York Red Bulls, a team that, under its old MetroStars name, had for years been consistently lousy. I complained -- in a friendly way, you understand -- that Arena's new signings for the Red Bulls were something of a joke, that I couldn't see a team being fashioned out of them, and asked why he was signing so many over-30s?

That question is still valid. Arena has brought to the Galaxy two workhorse veterans -- Eddie Lewis (age 34) and Dema Kovalenko (age 31) -- and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (age 31). On the soccer thrillometer, that trio register precisely zero. Very well, then the excitement will have to come from elsewhere. But where? There's Beckham, of course, but if there's one thing he's managed to show us over the course of two pedestrian seasons, it is that he needs a lot of help if he's going to liven things up.

A further scrutiny of the current roster doesn't offer much hope. There's Chris Klein -- another over-30 player -- who's been known to strike a spectacular goal or two, but not very often, and there's Jovan Kirovski, who we've been thinking of as a promising player for so long that it's a shock to realize that he's almost 33 and that the full promise will not be realized.

I'd like to think that Mike Magee will blossom under Arena. Here's another American starlet -- a first-round draft pick in 2003 -- who has simply not developed. But one thing is for sure: he's better than the insulting value the Red Bulls put on him when they traded him to the Galaxy for the MLS version of a mess of pottage: a future second-round draft pick.

Talking of draft picks, Arena had four in the recent MLS So-Called Super Draft. Can anything be expected from his choices? In a word, no. Not because there is anything particularly bad about them, but simply because they are college players. They will not be ready for MLS -- it will take time. Obviously, time is something Arena doesn't have, it's something that Beckham doesn't have. For Beckham -- assuming he's there -- this 2009 season is the last chance for him to display his talents, limited as they are, and to prove that he is not a has-been. A label that has been looking increasingly appropriate of late. And don't be fooled by the guarded praise being handed to him by Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti, who mentioned his "tactical discipline." Right -- well, I can tell you that AEG did not sign Beckham and agree to pay him a fortune so that he could enthrall everyone with displays of tactical discipline. Something more like flair is required.

But Arena, I suspect, feels otherwise. His job is to ensure that the Galaxy makes the playoffs. And whenever a soccer team is desperately intent on a minimal goal like that, you can be sure that the unspoken theme underlying the desire is that it doesn't matter how. Just win enough games, anyhow, to qualify for postseason play.

That's the obvious, practical, sensible, pragmatic way of viewing the situation. But what a bore. If that's the way it's going to be, then it's even a step back from last season, when -- thanks largely to the brilliance of Donovan -- the Galaxy was the highest-scoring team in the league.

The immediate future of the Galaxy looks like it'll be a replay of the 2007 Red Bulls, a rather unexciting team that labored its way into the playoffs, then departed at the first hurdle. But there is one clear difference. The Red Bulls had Juan Pablo Angel, arguably the most successful of the league's various Designated Players. The Galaxy has David Beckham who, at the moment is merely the most expensive of the Designated Players.


4 comments about "When - if? - Beckham returns, then what?".
  1. Philippe Fontanelli, January 22, 2009 at 10:38 a.m.

    Once again here goes Gardner again. My God he says the way it is, not sparing anyone. Well done again as I feel the same. Gardner constantly on the money and I have been reading his articles way back when he was writing for World Soccer magazine. I am glad that he puts his two cents in, and he is right I always felt that Arena is "has been" as a coach actually for me he has never been one. Although I feel that Beckham's presence, passes and reading the game helped Donovan playing better. Donovan needs to play in a quality team with quality players to perform better, as he is a player with moods but talent. Paul great reading your comments again and Thanks......

  2. David Sirias, January 22, 2009 at 2:44 p.m.

    LD is not coming back most likely. DB probably is coming back. LAG will use the transfer money find someone else probably not as good as LD, and the beat goes on. Paul is probably right--LAG will make the playoff this year folloed by a quick exit. DB will ask to get out. Not until then can the LAG rebuild proporly.

  3. Charles Smith, January 22, 2009 at 4:02 p.m.

    Negative, Negative, negative! Does anyone read what they have written BEFORE they print it anymore?

    Why do people hate Beckham so much and adore Donovan so much. What have either one of them ever really done to deserve the passion that they stir up here?

    I am a season ticket holder for FC Dallas precisely because Beckham has been in MLS for the past two years. I was there the night he no-showed on us and I have been there since. My boys and I have grown to LOVE the game based largely on these experiences and watch EPL games regularly... Go ManU!

    Both MLS and US Soccer in general owe a great debt to Beckham for taking a chance on us, regardless the money, as he could have remained comfortably in any number of places in Europe without nearly the scrutiny. Instead, he chose to put this league on the map for the first time in it's history. Local Dallas stations actually mention FC Dallas scores now and even show some highlights occasionally.

    As for Donovan, he is a fine player but far over-rated. What will likely be his third brief stint in Germany will spell this out. That said, I am proud of him for not giving up and simply excepting his fate as the best the US has to offer, a role he only gets to enjoy for another a year or so. I wish him the best and hope that he proves me wrong.

  4. Constance Everett, January 23, 2009 at 2:16 a.m.

    Though Mr. G may be right, LA supporters are trying to look forward with a smatter of hope that Arena can improve our team. McGee is a breath of fresh air. I'm surprised about Sanneh, but the more big defenders the better! Frankly, Beckham is gone so often, his impact might not be so crucial if the rest of the team can be beefed up. Becks won't check out unless he can do it guilt-free. As for Landon Donovan, he has contributed a lot to the quality of the Galaxy and US Soccer. Nobody holds anything against him for wanting to stay in Germany. He looked very unsettled and upset towards the end of the season (with good reason). He needs this chance. Last year we had many inexperienced players. The older bunch is needed, I think, to balance out that element. And, frankly, everyone knows there's a 500 pound unicorn on the field when the coach goes out to find new players. So give us a break, will ya? We've heard all it before.

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