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Galaxy will be challenged by match with AC Milan

The teams will play in a sold-out friendly at Home Depot Center on Sunday night, and the Italian team, even at less than full capacity, is expected to give the Galaxy all it can handle.

July 19, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

As far as weeks go, the one just past was a good one for the Galaxy, both individually and collectively.

Coach Bruce Arena was able to return to New Jersey and show the New York Red Bulls how badly mistaken they were in dismissing him as coach in 2008.

David Beckham and Landon Donovan got to patch up their unseemly quarrel over which one of them is more professional.

Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts showed yet again why he is one of the best in Major League Soccer, and midfielder Chris Birchall not only made his MLS debut but, according to Beckham, was introduced to the joys of peanut butter and jam sandwiches.

This week, however, promises to start out a little stickier for the Galaxy, which plays AC Milan in a sold-out friendly at the Home Depot Center tonight at 7.

The Italian team, beginning a four-game preseason tour of the U.S., will provide the most daunting on-field challenge for the Galaxy since it lost, 1-0, to Chelsea in Carson almost exactly two years ago in Beckham's debut for Los Angeles.

"I think it's great," Beckham said. "I think it's great for big teams and big players to come over to this side of the world and show their skills and show how great they are. It can only be good for the game."

Tonight's match was more or less forced upon AC Milan as part of the agreement that allowed Beckham to remain on loan with Milan through the end of the Serie A season on May 31.

Just how the Italians will approach it, therefore, will be interesting to see. They could go through the motions and treat it as a glorified training exercise or they could decide that a lopsided victory would make a more telling point.

Beckham would prefer that the Galaxy prevent the latter from happening.

"We don't want to be embarrassed," he said Saturday. "We don't want to stand around like cones."

Jet lag will be an issue. Coach Leonardo and his players left Milan at noon Italian time on Saturday, flew to Frankfurt, changed planes and were due to arrive in Los Angeles at 5:30 local time before training at UCLA at 7 p.m.

Such is the quality of the seven-time European champions, however, that even in low gear and even travel-weary, they should give the Galaxy all it can handle.

Ricketts, Jamaica's national team goalkeeper, "has simply been outstanding this year," according to Arena, but he and the Galaxy defense will be hard-pressed to contain the Rossoneri for 90 minutes.

Still, the Galaxy is a decidedly better team than it was when Arena took charge last August. He has rebuilt not only the roster but also the morale.

Arena was also the one who sat down with Donovan and Beckham a week ago and arbitrated their dispute.

"There was never any doubt in our minds that these guys would work together," he said after Thursday's 3-1 victory over the Red Bulls had stretched the Galaxy's winning streak to four games. "They're good professionals."

Donovan, who has a team-high seven goals and might be inclined to try to impress AC Milan tonight and earn a loan deal of his own to Italy, said getting back on the same page with Beckham was never going to be difficult.

"With players like that you don't worry about chemistry," he said, "because he sees the game the same way. . . . He knows how to play and he can make all the plays that I need to get the ball in a good spot."

Beckham said he has been impressed by the new spirit evident in the Galaxy locker room and on the field.

"We are playing with players who have a lot of confidence and don't feel . . . scared to just do stuff on their own," he said. "They don't feel as if they have to give the ball to certain players in attacking positions because they can do it themselves."

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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