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Key to the Galaxy's season is Donovan -- with or without Beckham

March 15, 2009|Associated Press

Chris Klein isn't worried about David Beckham and his much-anticipated return to the United States. The Los Angeles Galaxy will be midway through their MLS season when Beckham arrives in July from his overseas loan to AC Milan and Klein says his teammate's absence won't be an issue.

"Since the beginning of the year, we've focused on the core group of guys in the locker room that we have," Klein said after a recent practice. "I think initially to have Landon (Donovan) back is the biggest thing for us. He's a homegrown player, he's an American player and probably one of the best we've ever produced.

"For the team right now, that's our focus. The fact of David coming back in July, that's a long time away and we've got a lot to focus on before then."

Beckham's absence and eventual return seems to be the major topic as the opening of the MLS season nears, but the league's compelling story lines also include a new team coached by Sigi Schmid that's creating a buzz in Seattle, while Robert Warzycha replaces him at defending champion Columbus.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy players don't seem to mind the Beckham-centered attention.

"It's normal. It's sports and he's a big story," seven-year MLS veteran Tony Sanneh said. "He brings some good and bad, and I don't think in a negative way but it's a little more attention and you get some perks from it.

"I think it's good for the league. We're always crying that we want to be recognized and why we're not in the paper and in the news, and he keeps us in the news."

Beckham certainly has done that, although the Galaxy hasn't made much other news in recent years. Los Angeles has failed to make the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, and Beckham hasn't made much of a difference on the field since arriving in 2007. Even though Donovan scored 20 goals to lead the league last season, the Galaxy finished with a 9-14 record.

Beckham had five goals and 10 assists last season after playing only five games in an injury-plagued 2007 campaign.

With young newcomers, Donovan knows he needs to step up.

"We need an environment here that brings (the best) out of everybody, and I think that's what we've been lacking," said Donovan, who rejoined the team after his overseas loan to Bayern Munich ended.

"The overall environment hasn't been good enough and challenging enough where it makes everyone better. If you look at Manchester United, I bet you've got a lot of guys getting on each other at different times and making sure that things are right. That's what we need."

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said having Donovan back will help.

"I've said this many times -- we think, in Landon, we have the best player in MLS," Arena said. "Landon is obviously one of our leaders, we think obviously one of the best attacking players in the league.

"It's going to be great to have him back with his speed, his goal-scoring ability, and his playmaking ability."

Sanneh hopes that Beckham's late-season entrance will provide a spark.

"At that point I think he'll give our team a boost and hopefully that pushes us so we can be playoff-bound," he said.

In Seattle, the newest MLS franchise is already making lots of noise before it has even played its first game.

Thanks in large part to a partnership with the Seattle Seahawks, Sounders FC have sold more than 20,000 season tickets, better than the league's average attendance last season, and have a sellout of more than 32,000 for the inaugural game on March 19 against the New York Red Bulls.

The remarkable fan reaction also persuaded the league to hold the 2009 MLS Cup at Qwest Field on Nov. 22.

Aside from the general interest in a new franchise, the Sounders management has given fans a roster that could be exciting. They brought in Schmid, and they didn't hesitate in using the financial backing of Hollywood executive and majority owner Joe Roth, making Swedish midfielder Freddie Ljungberg the fourth-highest paid player in the league.

They lured former U.S. national team goalkeeper Kasey Keller back from Europe with the opportunity to finish his playing career only an hour from where he grew up.

"Any franchise that puts on a good face and has passionate fans, it's good for soccer in America," Roth said. "Certainly, one of my hopes, again, is to elevate the status of soccer in this country. It's obviously the world's game. It has yet to really catch on (here)."

At Columbus, the 45-year-old Warzycha certainly has the background to take over a team that will defend its league championship. He was an assistant with the Crew the past six seasons after being an outstanding player for them. He remains the team's all-time assists leader with 66 and ranks fourth with 99 points.

The Crew also have Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the MVP of the regular season and MLS Cup. The star from Argentina led Columbus to a 3-1 victory over the Red Bulls in the title game.

The Red Bulls, last season's surprise with their late drive to the MLS title game, will try to build on that momentum, with the tandem of Pablo Angel and Dane Richards providing a consistent scoring threat.

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