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After ripping David Beckham, Landon Donovan tries to explain

Donovan doesn't apologize for his view that Beckham wasn't committed to the Galaxy. But he does say he should have said it to Beckham, not a reporter, and that he wants his teammate to succeed in L.A.

July 09, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES

One week from today, on the threadbare carpet of Giants Stadium against a New York Red Bulls team that has won only two of 19 games this season, David Beckham returns to Major League Soccer.

Three days later, at the Home Depot Center, Beckham will play in a friendly for the Galaxy, which holds his contract, against AC Milan, which holds his heart.

For Beckham, both are unpleasant propositions.

Mediocrity at the Meadowlands to be followed by the sheepish admission to Milan's star-studded cast that, yes, as a matter of fact, this is the team I play for in America.

Before all of that, however, there is something equally uncomfortable awaiting Beckham: A confrontation with Landon Donovan.

The Galaxy's captain wants a few words with the English midfielder. Donovan doesn't want to praise him for doing so well during his five-month loan spell with AC Milan. Nor does he want to congratulate him on continuing to play for England.

What Donovan wants is to clear the air about why Beckham essentially mailed it in during the latter half of the 2008 MLS season in which the Galaxy finished second to last.

Having already unloaded on Beckham in Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl's new book, "The Beckham Experiment," due out Tuesday, Donovan wants to set the record straight in person.

On Wednesday, he explained why.

"I'm not going to apologize for the way I felt," he told The Times. "What I feel badly about is that I should have been a man and told David how I felt as opposed to telling a reporter.

"David and I will sit down when he gets back and just talk it through. What you don't get from reading a few excerpts and what you do get from reading the whole book is that we all want David to be here. We all want him to succeed, and he wants to succeed.

"Something happened at some point last year where a switch went off, and that's what I want to talk to him about, and we'll figure that out man to man."

Excerpts from Wahl's book were published in Sports Illustrated last week and caused a stir.

"All that we care about at a minimum is that he committed himself to us," Donovan was quoted as saying about Beckham in the book. "As time has gone on, that has not proven to be the case in many ways -- on the field, off the field."

Beckham, beset by injury in 2007 and bedeviled by a woefully dysfunctional team in 2008, failed to provide the inspiration the Galaxy players were seeking. Having taken the captain's armband away from Donovan, Beckham failed to put it to good use.

As the team staggered from one crisis to the next, the rift between Donovan and Beckham only widened.

"At the end of the day, they didn't respect each other, they didn't like each other, they didn't talk to each other," Alexi Lalas, the Galaxy's former president and general manager, told Wahl. "And they merely tolerated each other on the field."

In the book, Donovan described last season as "miserable," and said he wanted to see Beckham benched if he was not going to show some effort.

"If that's the way he's going to be, fine, then hold him accountable," Donovan said. "Don't play him. Bench him. Just say: 'We're not going to play you, we don't think you're committed.' "

Donovan's other comments in the book were equally scathing.

Beckham's inability or unwillingness to fire up a team in free-fall surprised Donovan. "It's disappointing, candidly, because you just want to see a heartbeat, a pulse," he told Wahl.

On Wednesday, Donovan said he believed the situation could be salvaged.

"We're already planning on getting together when [Beckham] gets back. That's something we'll handle now. Obviously, the lesson I learned is that it's not something that needs to be public. It's something we need to figure out within the team and it will get solved.

"I think David's going to come back and play well regardless of what happens. I think he's motivated. I think he seems like he's rejuvenated and he's excited to come back here."

Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, who this season restored the captaincy to Donovan, said Wednesday that he believed Donovan has learned from the tempest.

"Landon's going to grow from this controversy and these comments in this book," he said. "He's going to grow to be a stronger captain for our team, a stronger person."

Beckham returns to Los Angeles on Friday.

Whether he will remain with the Galaxy beyond this season or as is widely expected, exercise the buy-out option in his five-year contract to rejoin AC Milan, is still unclear.

"I think if David wants to be here and he's committed to play and he plays up to his potential, we'd love to have David around," Arena said. "But that's his decision." --

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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