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Beckham draws wannabes

More than 1,000 men apply for a tryout with the Galaxy and a chance to play with the British star, when he finally joins the club.

January 30, 2007|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

It had long been the Galaxy's intention to hold an open tryout this winter, just as other Major League Soccer clubs do every few seasons.

Then the team signed superstar David Beckham.

Just like that, the tryout has become the soccer equivalent of "American Idol."

The Galaxy was flooded with more than 1,000 applications from Beckham teammate wannabes, from as far away as Japan, England, Honduras, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, the Netherlands, Scotland and Nigeria, before the team cut off applications online.

Now the Galaxy plans to limit its Feb. 10-11 tryout at the Home Depot Center in Carson to "600 or 700" players, said Tom Payne, the team's assistant general manager.

It will cost the players $130 apiece for the tryouts, plus the expense of getting to Los Angeles and staying here for the weekend. For that, they will get a few Galaxy souvenirs, but most of all they will come away being able to say, "I tried out for the team that has David Beckham," Payne said.

The team is also fending off the ravenous English tabloids, hungering for whatever Beckham tidbit they can find.

"We've had calls from the Sun, the News of the World and others wanting to have people participate," Galaxy spokesman Patrick Donnelly said. "We've had many media asking to have reporters take part. We're not doing that."

Meanwhile, more serious European newspapers and wire services belittled the talent search. One headline summed up the general view: "Galaxy Search for Unknowns to Play With Beckham."

Alexi Lalas, the Galaxy's president and general manager, is unfazed.

"There's been an incredible response domestically and internationally. It's been phenomenal, but it's not surprising," he said. "While there are many folks out there who are delusional about their singing skills that we routinely laugh at, there are also plenty of people who are delusional about their ability on the soccer field."

So the Galaxy is paring the list of applicants, who must be male and at least 18.

"We have to be 100% sure that the guy from Ireland who wants to fly in ... is going to be here," Payne said.

Still, that leaves a lot of room for fact-checking. One applicant, for instance, claims to have played for Nigeria's under-17 national team. Another has launched a website in England seeking financial help in getting him to Los Angeles.

"I realize the international press have a hard time grasping" the value of open tryouts, said Lalas, a former U.S. World Cup star and member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. "This is something American sports does.... You never know when someone is going to have that something that separates them from the masses."

It has even happened for the Galaxy. In 1999, long before the team moved to Carson, the lines of wannabe professional players snaked all the way around the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, then the team's home.

One player waiting for his chance that frosty morning was a 19-year-old from El Salvador named Marvin Quijano. Against all odds, he made it and went on to play for four seasons in MLS, appearing in 32 games.

Quijano is the exception, of course, but if there is a player who emerges from the pack Feb. 11, the Galaxy intends to find him.

Paul Bravo, the team's assistant coach, said the coaches doing the evaluating know exactly what to look for.

"We're trying to figure out whether they can fit in with the speed of play that we see in practice on a daily basis," he said. "What kind of understanding and awareness do they have within the game? Technically, are they good enough under pressure to be able to solve problems? Can they keep the ball? Stuff like that all factors into it.

"We can get a good idea of who can do it and who can't in a pretty short period of time."

Chivas USA, which shares the Home Depot Center with the Galaxy, has its own talent search planned and is doing something unique in MLS: It has turned its tryout into a month-long television reality show.

On Sunday, the club launched "Sueno MLS" ("MLS Dream") as a segment of Republica Deportiva, the top-rated weekly Spanish-language sports magazine TV show in the U.S.

Chivas USA invited aspiring players 16 and older to sign up on its website for free open tryouts Feb. 16-19 at the Bell Gardens Sports Center. Within eight hours of the announcement, all 2,000 available places had been snapped up, Chivas spokesman Keegan Pierce said.

The first four days of the tryout will cut the number to 60. A second cut will reduce the number to 24, and then one player will emerge March 25 and earn a two-week contract to train with Chivas USA and perhaps win a roster spot. Each week's cut will provide a televised episode.

"Anything that the Galaxy does these days has a Beckham twist to it," Whit Haskell, Chivas USA's general manager, said Monday, adding that his team is "thrilled about the response" it has received and has another 1,000 players on a waiting list.

The Galaxy, meanwhile, is still coming to grips with its own flood of applicants. The response has "been a really fun thing, but I've got to be honest, it's been more than we thought," Payne said. "The first night that we announced it, 10,000 people clicked on that portion of our website.

"We're in a different world these days."

It's called Beckham-mania.

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