Beckham's Galaxy: More boring than scoring

By Paul Gardner

Now that the Galaxy (or as it’s far too often defined, "David Beckham’s Galaxy") has won MLS Cup, we can settle down to have a bit of a ponder about its manner of claiming the title. Beckham has had his say, "We were incredible" is his modest opinion.

Were they? Are they worthy champions? Frankly, no. Worthy winners of the final, yes, that for sure. But to maintain that the Galaxy was “the best” team in MLS takes some doing. Statistically, of course they were the best, and there will be those who believe -- with some reason -- that that’s all that matters.

I don’t think so. And I particularly don’t think so in MLS. This is a league that is trying to sell the sport of soccer to the vast American sporting public. The style of the Galaxy -- basically cautious and boring -- is not going to help that aim at all. Quite the opposite.

One slightly-more-than-superficial look at the Galaxy’s super-stats reveals a gaping hole in their splendor. The Galaxy won 23 of its 38 regular-season and playoff games; 11 of those 23 wins, just about half of them, came by 1-0 scorelines. That was the Galaxy logo: 1-0. I watched most, if not all, of those games and if I don’t recall much about them (and I don’t), it’s because they were such downright ordinary games.

That ability to throttle the soccer-life out of a game and render up a dead 1-0 carcass after 90 minutes of huffing, puffing and nothing was the Galaxy trademark. It got them into the final, a feat that meant we were doomed to another 90 minute dose of pallid soccer. Which is exactly what we got, ending -- of course -- with the obligatory 1-0 win for the Galaxy.

Is that what Beckham calls incredible? Well, in a way it is exactly that -- it is incredible that a team with the most expensive attacking talent in the league could manage only three shots on goal and just one goal. Luckily for the Galaxy, the Dynamo outdid them on ineptitude front, having only one shot on goal.

Here we have the great MLS moment, the climax to its season, a prime-time national telecast -- a game that has even positioned itself exactly as the MLS marketeers wanted, with the Galaxy playing before a sellout crowd in its own stadium -- and what do we get?

We got something that tells you just how corrosive the influence of the marketing crowd can be. They, of course, were mightily pleased because their icon, their most marketable asset, the icon that is Beckham, had come through, and “Beckham’s Galaxy” had triumphed.

So, if the future of MLS is to be about nothing more than marketing celebrities, then Sunday November 20, 2011 marked a massive achievement. It certainly gave us an occasion on which it was apparently OK to ignore the sport itself and focus on the gaudy, glitzy and garish irrelevancies that have hovered around Beckham ever since he descended on us five seasons ago.

Beckham can hardly be blamed for becoming much more important to the salesmen than to the soccer fans. But he does share part of the blame for failing, throughout his time with the Galaxy, to display any convincing devotion to the team. The distractions, the wish to be doing something else, to be playing somewhere else, have been constant.

This year, for the first time the Galaxy did manage to secure his full attention, and they now have (after five years!) their championship. They also have a Beckham who is now making it brutally plain that he feels no particular loyalty to the club. He will now sit back and work out what other offers he might want to take up, what seems more interesting, or more beneficial to his image, or more rewarding.

Whether Beckham returns or not, MLS had better shake some sense into itself and get back to being a purveyor of soccer -- of first class soccer. It will not accomplish Commissioner Don Garber’s exalted aim of becoming one of the top leagues in the world if it concentrates on the marketing of celebrities.

Not least because Beckham is very much one of a kind -- there is no comparable soccer celebrity with his charisma. When Beckham departs, the idea of selling soccer (i.e. MLS) as a subsidiary to a line of sexy underwear will depart with him.

Then MLS will have to rely on the sport itself -- and in that respect, the Galaxy, vintage 2011, is of no help whatever. A team loaded with all that talent should be playing with brio , even a swagger that exudes confidence and superiority.

Instead, Bruce Arena (never before known as a cautious coach) gave us those 11 1-0 wins -- most of them, the final being an example, wins that revealed a team struggling to impose itself. That Galaxy fans will be quite satisfied with a whole season consisting only of 1-0 wins, goes without saying. But watching them is not much fun for anyone else.

The final, to return to the stats, featured just three goalkeeper saves (allow me, for a moment, to indulge in the wishful thinking that this game would have featured at least three more goals had it been played without its barely necessary goalkeepers.) A miserable total of three saves is a measure of the lack of goalmouth activity -- a measure of the lack of excitement.

The goal, when it came, was a beauty, but it was hardly enough to reclaim this game from the mediocrity into which it had sunk. Before that, with its long periods of aimless torpor, the game had barely risen above the ordinary.

And ordinary soccer is not going to turn MLS into a league to match its “Major” claim -- either worldwide, or even within the USA. And certainly not in the race for TV ratings which, for this game, were embarrassing. Those low ratings contain the warning.

That MLS needs its marketeers I do not doubt. But MLS should be creating a sellable product. It should be producing a lively, exciting style of soccer that those guys can sell.

The Beckham years have distorted the hierarchy. We’ve had the marketeers taking over, telling MLS that the important thing is the selling of a celebrity, and let the soccer take care of itself. If Beckham sails off into the sunset, MLS can stop chasing the will-o’-the-wisp of celebrity marketing, and get back to what it should be doing, must be doing: making its soccer more attractive.

25 comments about "Beckham's Galaxy: More boring than scoring".
  1. Derek Dunmire, November 26, 2011 at 1:40 p.m.

    you are the biggest crab I've ever read. Nothing and I mean nothing is ever positive from you. I wish Soccer America would realize this and influence you to build the game rather than trash every aspect of it.

  2. Bill Anderson, November 26, 2011 at 1:46 p.m.

    Silent But Deadly...

  3. John Soares, November 26, 2011 at 2:05 p.m.

    While I agree with Paul's take on the Galaxy as a team. I believe it is wrong and unfair to blame Beckham for the style of play and lack of excitement in their games.
    Beckham came to America as a "marketing" promotion for the Galaxy and MLS in general. To that extent, the experiment was a success. This year he was actually an asset on the field as well. He was never a Ronaldo or Messi but a celebrity, with a single, perhaps best in the world talent, a terrific very accurate kick. Give him credit that on the field (at least) this year he gave a full effort for the full game. Something many, much younger players could/should learn from.

  4. Gak Foodsource, November 26, 2011 at 2:16 p.m.

    "get back to what it should be doing, must be doing: making its soccer more attractive." Paul is absolutely correct here. This is not a problem we can market ourselves out of. The world has changed - we can watch Champions League games on our cell phones. National team friendlies are broadcast for free on the internet. There are hundreds of thousands of fans that will emerge from the woodworks just like they do for summer exhibitions if MLS teams cease to play like rugby teams - a few passes followed by a long ball to create better field position. Beckham's departure marks the end of a significant marketing experiment by the league. Let's hope the next league initiative will be getting its teams to play more attractive, technical, attacking soccer.

  5. Ted Westervelt, November 26, 2011 at 2:54 p.m.

    So Paul, if MLS is a celebrity driven league, wouldn't that make the LA Galaxy like more the Harlem Globetrotter than an independent New York Cosmos?

  6. Daniel Clifton, November 26, 2011 at 3:16 p.m.

    There are two parts of this article I agree with - the ratings were low for this big game, that is a concern, and MLS does need to concentrate on producing an attractive style of soccer so that fans will watch. The rest of this article is just alot of complaints i have already read from Mr. Gardner, and quite frankly I am tired of reading them. I may stop reading his articles. I thought the game was a pretty good game. LA created at least five good scoring chances. They should have scored more. The offsides call on Keane's goal was shown by replays to be a missed call. He was not offsides. Cristman had three good chances, all of which he squandered. The game was much more offensive from the Galaxies' standpoint then Gardner relates. Houston had trouble doing anything offensively. Gardner seems to thinks the only way to play attractive soccer is to play like Barcelona. There are other ways to play. I like seeing effective long balls played, which Beckham is excellent at. I like to see a team that throws in the occasional long ball. It can be very effective. Did Paul see the three goals scored by the Beckham to Magee combination in the playoffs. What is Magee, all of 5'7"? I enjoyed watching that.

  7. Ted Westervelt, November 26, 2011 at 3:16 p.m.

    Derek - supporting MLS in a knee jerk fashion should not be confused with supporting the game in the US.

  8. Mike Lundwall, November 26, 2011 at 3:48 p.m.

    Although I agree that a more "exciting game" may bring more fans in the long run. I believe the sport must explore all options to garner the interest in the sport here in the U.S. We live in a country that for the most part turns its nose up at a sport that is worshiped in other countries. If it takes creative marketing to build the interest and expose those that might not otherwise bother then I am all for it. Not every championship game can be epic, I have seen many a boring World Series and Super Bowls as well in my time.

  9. Bob Dollaske, November 26, 2011 at 6:42 p.m.

    Someone should tell the marketers not to use a grey/some other dark color ball so the tv viewers can see it. Is this a u10 girls game with some designer pink/black ball? EPL is yellow, tennis is yellow. This was more difficult to see than a hockey game

  10. Ronald Coons, November 26, 2011 at 6:44 p.m.

    Mr. Gardner is so predictable that his negativity has become boring, at least to this long-time reader.

  11. Mj Lee, November 26, 2011 at 9:14 p.m.

    Overall this year, MLS soccer has not been exciting. There have been few memorable games, if any. It is unfair to blame this all on the Galaxy. The problem is how the MLS rewards performance. You just need to stay close enough all season to make the playoffs. Therefore, play for a tie when you're away, and play for a win at home. Also Paul, you have this wrong: "Bruce Arena (never before known as a cautious coach)...". Such a short memory! How can you forget Bruce playing only one forward throughout WC2006? Thankfully, he hasn't done that with the Galaxy... or you would be right.

  12. tim francis, November 27, 2011 at 6:31 a.m.

    I agree with Dan and others about what's right, wrong and missing in Paul's overly negative comments in this particular post: perhaps Paul needs a little more balance? Paul could talk about the final's real moments, if not nearly enough, of 'Barcelona' like attractive possession play. He could also suggest more solutions, like the need for more Rosario-like skilled strikers who consistently create and put away good opportunities, a pro-league that makes enough capital to attracts and drives the nation's best athletes, and more of the growing body of youth coaches that know, like Barcelona, the importance of skillful play over winning by long ball and physical force. However, perhaps Paul's lamentations, fairly based in unfortunate realities and sharply described, will continue empowering the real change happening in America's soccer. Hopefully the coaches and administrators will not take his comments as defensively as some.

  13. Philippe Fontanelli, November 27, 2011 at 9:51 a.m.

    I have respected PG for many years. He has been and is a soccer pro, as Jorge Ramos (commentator). Anyway the only thing I disagrre with PG as far as Marketing. I think it was a genious idea to bring Beckham on and market him to the apex. It sure didn't hurt the MLS. Sometimes you need to blow your own horn. I wish we would bring in more Beckhams and exploit them thru marketing and playing. Back to the final I almost didn't watch it as I wasn't interested, it's strange as I live for the game. I find both team basically boring w/o excitement wth the occasional Donovan, Beckham flare-up.
    As far a Arena, I think he is pompous and lucky to have a star studded team.

  14. Par Isacson, November 27, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.

    Couldn't the lack of goals and goal opportunities be a sign of good defensive play, which is just as important and can be just as enjoyable as offense?

  15. Bill Anderson, November 27, 2011 at 11:30 a.m.

    Agreed on the Silver Ball. I was hoping with Colorado out of the playoffs we would never have to see (or not be able to see) that monstrosity again. It is a terrible idea for TV to play with a ball that has such slight visibility, and the Jubalani ball itself is horrid. Adidas can make a quality stitched ball in a color that can be seen, instead of a molded ball in a dark color. Please MLS re-think this horrible ball idea.

  16. Eric R., November 27, 2011 at 11:43 a.m.

    I don't think you can blame all this on Becks. He finally did what he came to do. I also see him as a symbol of the last era in MLS, whereas I think the league is moving beyond this with the advent of youth development. Galaxy have been boring to watch for a couple of years, but I don't think this is coincidence. Arena's boring philosophy is as it has always been: don't lose. In DC it was a little different because he had a lot of the best players in the league and they really were in their own class. But if you look at what he's done since, he goes always with older/experienced players and plays D all day long. I sure wish Donovan moved to a team that wasn't such a bore, because THAT would be great to watch...

  17. dave hahn, November 27, 2011 at 12:18 p.m.

    Sorry Paul, but to maintain that the LA Galaxy were the best team in MLS is a pretty straight forward affair. They ended the regular season with the most points, the largest goal differential, the least goals allowed, and won the MLS Cup. And this is not to mention that they were undefeated at home -- an impressive feat no matter which way you slice it.

    If this list of accomplishments doesn't make them worthy champions, then what exactly does? And if the Galaxy were not the best team in the league, then who was? By offering no alternative "worthy champion" within this article, Mr. Gardner offers nothing to the reader aside from pure negativity. And that is something that is infinitely more boring then LA Galaxy's approach could ever be.

  18. Andrea Hana, November 27, 2011 at 1:09 p.m.

    I have to totally agree with this man, here, as most of the time, I do. Beckham is not the only soccer player. It's not about glamour without pizazz. After all, the captain, one of our American Soccer hero's, Landon Donovan, was the one who scored the winning goal to make that 1-0. Beckham really gave nothing for the 5 years that he was here.

  19. Mark Buehler, November 27, 2011 at 3:56 p.m.

    I have been a Soccer America subscriber for more than 25 years. Over that time, I have enjoyed many of Mr. Gardner's articles. But in recent years, his opinions have become as negative and boring as he belives MLS soccer to be. And with him, it seems to always be the same basic issues: Beckham is overrated, MLS isn't good enough, every team in the world should play like Barcelona or don't bother playing at all, everything about British soccer - from coaches to broadcasters to style of play - is outdated and wrong for America and shouldn't be allowed in the country (wasn't he born in the UK? maybe we should start with him,) everyone he disagrees with or disapproves of is clearly wrong, and heaven forbid any American use the word football when referring to soccer (which is curious because a. who really cares, and b. just read Mr. Gardner's column in the current World Soccer magazine and you'll find him using the terms football and soccer quite's ok for him I suppose.) He has become that which he complains about the most in soccer: boring, predictable, negative, and pretentious. And now, with this latest article, Mr. Gardner has become so incredibly redundant that he even uses three words in the same sentence that mean the same thing: gaudy, glitzy and garish. Enough already Mr. Gardner. Please find some fresh material (or at least a thesaurus)... or perhaps it's time for you to move on to another country that hasn't heard it all before.

  20. Rene Guerra, November 27, 2011 at 8:45 p.m.

    Gardner is just telling the truth; telling the king that hes is naked, that he is wearing no clothes. Unfortunately, that bothers many. The 2011 MLS Cup championship game was mere garbage soccer, a faithful representative of MLS' mediocre soccer. The MLS should take advantage of the winter break by making all of its players watch the game when Barcelona --with its cerebral, exquisite soccer-- made Manchester United spin like Dervishes at Wembley, when Barcelona won the European Cup. The real truth is that, rather than progressing out of its known mediocrity, MLS soccer is regressing deeper into it. Thank you, Gardner; keep telling MLS the truth; you are doing them a great service.

  21. Daniel Clifton, November 27, 2011 at 10:43 p.m.

    I agree with Mark Buehler's comment. I also agree with Par Isacson. Soccer is a defensive sport. What is wrong with good defense. Gardner writes as if playing good defense is an affront to the game. I certainly did not see the Galaxy playing conservatively. They were building up for goals throughout the game. I used to read Gardner's column's with great interest because I thought he had some really perceptive takes on the US game. His criticisms now are the same old thing. It gets old.

  22. Gak Foodsource, November 28, 2011 at 9:54 a.m.

    The discussion on style is occasionally misleading because it relies upon the assumption that players have sufficient technical abilities to play different styles. Style allows you to say what you want to do with the ball over the course of a game. Maybe its passing other teams to death, maybe its getting the ball wide and serving crosses in from the touchline. But it is a choice. When players cannot control the ball and have it do exactly what they want it to do, they cannot claim to be playing a specific style because the ball is deciding for them. Watching that MLS cup final, I didn't see players making decisions with the ball over sustained periods. I saw bad touches handcuffing any and all ability to choose how they wanted to play the game.

  23. Brian Something, November 28, 2011 at 10:08 a.m.

    "Paul could talk about the final's real moments"

    Not really since there weren't moments plural... just one. Probably the worst final in league history that didn't involve New England.

  24. Jose Fernandez, November 29, 2011 at 10:35 a.m.

    Don't blame Beckham on Galaxy boring style of playing soccer this is a typical Arena's idea on how to play futbol, Thats the way he coach, Arena is always been lucky to have real good players, if not he would not be able to even dream in a championship, i really don't know how they price Arena as the best coach

  25. Alex Michalakos, December 7, 2011 at 9:38 a.m.

    I've been a subscriber since I became a teenager in the early 80's--we need PG's point of view even if it's just as a gauge.

    Easy way to radically improve the attractiveness of MLS for the fan, and produce many more goals:

    Call fouls.

    This includes:
    (1) Not allowing defenders to wrestle the guy with the ball, or the guy running for the ball.
    (2) Start calling penalties in the area for the wrestling that goes on. It will soon stop.
    (3) Give yellows in the first half for intentional and professional fouls, and for delay tactics. All of that will subside. Players will adapt.

    So too will coaches, and this would allow skill players to do what they do. And it will allow coaches to deploy more skill players instead of requiring an offensive lineman to "hold the ball" up front against a linebacker trying to tackle him while we watch with disdain.

    It will not make the game "soft." It will be fun to watch. Translation: higher TV ratings.
    Besides, if one wants to watch all that fouling, hard tackling, and wrestling, they can watch actual wrestling or football.

    Also, we have to rid referees of the notion that you cannot give yellows in the beginnings of the game. The whole point of a yellow card is to discourage further such conduct, and to officially warn the player so that he has an incentive to stop. Players know (as I did when I played) that they can get away with the fouls in the beginnings, or even the entire first half. In so many games I see refs not giving yellows until the last third or quarter of the game. That totally defeats the purpose. The player is fine with that. And the damage to the game is already done.

    Because USSoccer provides the refs, MLS must use whatever leverage it has to encourage this.

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