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GRAHAME L. JONES ON SOCCER

David Beckham gets some love, anyway

Some Galaxy fans boo the star midfielder in his return to Home Depot Center, but AC Milan players, coach are happy to see him, and feeling is mutual at the end of teams' 2-2 tie.

July 20, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES

If there was ever any doubt that David Beckham and AC Milan are meant for each other, that doubt vanished Sunday evening.

It was evident in the body language of the Milan players, in the words of the Milan coach and in the behavior of the Galaxy's highest-paid and highest-profile player.

Beckham turned in a performance that made nonsense of claims that at 34 he is either over the hill or no longer interested. He ran tirelessly and provided the passes that led to both Los Angeles goals as the Galaxy tied AC Milan, 2-2, before a sellout crowd of 27,000 at the Home Depot Center.

When Beckham was taken out of the match in the 75th minute, a telling moment took place. He walked off the field, shook hands with Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena and then strolled over to the AC Milan bench and put his arm around AC Milan Coach Leonardo's neck as they exchanged a couple of words.

Beckham then gave Brazil's 1994 World Cup winner a thumbs-up sign and went back to the Galaxy bench.

At the final whistle, the Beckham-AC Milan love-in was even more on display. He posed for photographs with the Rossoneri's support staff, hugged veteran forward Filippo Inzaghi and midfielder Ronaldinho and had his hair tousled or his hand slapped by several other Milan players.

Everyone seemed genuinely happy to see him again.

Beckham spent six months on loan with the Serie A team, leaving at the end of the Italian season in May. Now, he looks like a player who very much wants to be back in red and black colors come January.

Leonardo believes it could happen. He was quoted on the team's website Saturday as saying he would favor Beckham's return. "David had and has a good rapport with all of us," he said. "Moreover, he is a good person. . . . I don't think there is anything strange to say that he could come back into my plans, because he can fit into any system."

On Sunday evening, Leonardo reiterated that stance.

"If it's possible, I think it could be a very good thing for us," he said. "He knows everyone. Everyone loves him in our club. If it's possible, we'll see in the future."

The game itself was entertaining, although marked by the hostile reception Beckham received from the more passionate Galaxy fans who do not appreciate his obviously split allegiance.

AC Milan took the field with only five of its usual starters: the talismanic Ronaldinho, veteran Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, Marek Jankulovski, Massimo Ambrosini and 2006 World Cup-winning defender Alessandro Nesta.

Other familiar names were absent. Defender and AC Milan icon Paulo Maldini has retired. Playmaker Kaka was sold to Real Madrid for $94 million, and four other regulars -- Brazil's Pato and Italy's Andrea Pirlo, Gianluca Zambrotta and Gennaro Gattuso -- were given a longer rest after playing in the Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Milan took the lead in the 16th minute when Davide Di Gennaro floated a free kick into the Los Angeles penalty area, where Thiago Silva deflected the ball past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.

The Galaxy tied it in the 30th minute on a move that started with Beckham sprinting half the length of the field and then finding Landon Donovan with a perfect cross.

Donovan drew defenders Nesta and Marek Jankulovski toward him before passing to an unmarked Alan Gordon, who side-footed the ball into the net.

Inzaghi, who had come on for the second 45 minutes, put Milan ahead again in the 61st minute, taking a cut-back pass from Mathieu Flamini and firing a shot past goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who'd replaced Ricketts in the second half.

Four minutes later, the Galaxy earned a corner kick which Beckham took amid a hail of abuse from fans. He curled a perfect ball into the box and Bryan Jordan powered a header into the net for what is surely the most memorable goal of his young career.

Beckham turned to the fans and let them know that that was how he intends to respond to any future abuse.

--

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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