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Light on Beckham creates heat

July 21, 2007|Grahame L. Jones and Ken Fowler | Times Staff Writers

There is plenty of hype around today's Galaxy match against Chelsea at the Home Depot Center.

The stadium is sold out because David Beckham might play his first game with the Galaxy, although probably in a cameo role, even though ESPN has been touting the game for weeks and is pushing behind the scenes for Beckham to be on the field despite his injured ankle. Also, Galaxy Coach Frank Yallop's job might be on the line because of the team's poor performance this season.

The bottom line for Galaxy players is this: If they are to lose, then they must go down fighting. They cannot afford to submit as meekly as they did in a 3-0 loss to Tigres UANL on Tuesday.

"I think we have to put Tuesday night's performance behind us and know that we're playing one of the best teams in the world here, and we've got to basically man up," veteran Galaxy midfielder Cobi Jones said after practice Friday.

The goalposts for the Galaxy have shifted since Beckham's Los Angeles arrival one week ago. For a while, at least, the Galaxy is beneath a global spotlight, and the players can either bask or shrivel.

"All of our players and the coaching staff understand that there are heightened expectations and that the pressure ... has been ratcheted up many notches," said Alexi Lalas, the Galaxy's president and general manager.

"You can't have this type of whirlwind and not expect it to take a certain toll. This is a new world that our players are living in and not one that they've experienced before. The environment that Galaxy players now are involved with daily is not something that any of the players in MLS experience, so it's going to take time for them to get used to it.

"Ultimately, we need players who thrive in that type of environment, that want that pressure.... The eyes of the world are now upon us and we need players who can handle that type of pressure."

Jones has faced pressure -- for example, in the United States-Mexico second-round match in Jeonju, South Korea, during the 2002 World Cup when Jones was pounded on mercilessly by the Mexican defenders as the U.S. scored a memorable victory.

And Galaxy defender Abel Xavier has faced pressure. In Portugal's 2000 European Championship semifinal against France in Brussels, Xavier was called for a dubious hand ball infraction in overtime, Zinedine Zidane scored from the resulting penalty kick and the Portuguese lost to the reigning world and soon-to-be European champions.

But there is some extra pressure today, especially from the international media that have gathered in expectation of seeing Beckham's Galaxy debut, and because game tickets are being offered on the Internet for up to $1,250 apiece.

"It's easier for the older and the veteran players to handle it," Jones said. "My concern is for the younger players who really haven't experienced this kind of madness before."

Xavier took a different tack.

"If the players are not excited to play against Chelsea, I think they cannot play at a high level," he said.

Chelsea is not going to make it easy. The English Premier League team features not only one or two stars but an entire constellation. Coach Jose Mourinho, after fielding entirely different lineups in each half during victories over Club America of Mexico and the Suwon Bluewings of South Korea, today is expected to put his strongest lineup on the field and keep it there.

Yallop, with far fewer options at his disposal, on Friday still was weighing the pros and cons of any Beckham involvement in the match.

"We're hoping he'll be OK in the morning," he said. "He desperately wants to play. It won't be a big part in the game, we know that, because he hasn't trained in a number of weeks, but we're hoping he can get some time on the field.

"If there's any chance of him being out there, he will be out there."




Galaxy vs. Chelsea

at Home Depot Center

5:30 p.m., ESPN

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