GALAXY: Birchall back with the gang


Chris Birchall, forced to skip the first leg of the Galaxy's postseason tour of Asia and Australia, has joined his teammates in Manila after dealing with a family emergency.

The English midfielder expects to be ready for Saturday's friendly against the Philippines' national team, a game that begins at 3:30 a.m. PST and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.

Birchall, who pulled out of the Jakarta portion of the trip after a family matter emerged over Thanksgiving, arrived Thursday night in the Philippine capital after flying from Los Angeles through Tokyo.

“Family comes first, and that was the most important thing to me,” Birchall told the Galaxy's website. “Obviously, I wanted to come with the guys from the start so that we could feel like a team and celebrate that we won the MLS Cup, but with the situation at home, it was a no-brainer that I had to stay. But thankfully everything went well and I was able to join the team and celebrate our accomplishments.

“It made it fun that when I got here, the guys weren’t expecting to see me until the morning, but I surprised them, met up with them all right when I got here. We’ve got a great team spirit, and it’s nice to know that your other players want you around and think that you're fun to have around. It’s nice to feel like I was wanted.”

Birchall was disappointed he couldn't travel to Jakarta last weekend nor play in Wednesday's victory over Indonesia's national team, but he was buoyed because of “players like Robbie [Keane], Becks and Josh [Saunders], especially, saying that they were gutted that I couldn’t come but that they sent their best and hoped that I could make it out at some point.”

When the crisis at home waned earlier this week, the Galaxy set up a marathon trip -- 19 hours in the air -- to get Birchall into camp. He followed a 13-hour flight to Tokyo with a six-hour trek to Manila.

“To be honest, it was probably better that I did it on my own because there was nobody keeping me up,” Birchall said. “Thirteen hours on the first one would have seemed a lot longer if I had someone I knew next to me. Instead, I just relaxed and tried to get as much sleep as possible, although I think that I only got three or four hours.”

BECKHAM'S VISIT: David Beckham on Friday visited a UNICEF-supported children's shelter in Manila, spending time with former street children who shared tales of abuse and struggles to survive, according to reports by The Associated Press and the U.K. Press Association.

Beckham told UNICEF staff, AP reported, that he was amazed the children had endured “so much in such a short space of time in their young lives” and that it was “so sad to see so many children that don't have that support, don't have that love” that he had growing up.

Beckham played goalkeeper in a short game with the children, and his side lost, 1-0.

“What struck me the most about coming into the center was it was a real happy place, a real inspiring place,” he told media after the visit. “They are teaching kids unbelievable values. Every child I spoke to today, they all have dreams, they all have inspirations.”

NEVERENDING STORY: Beckham, asked for the umpteenth time (or, more accurately, the umphundredth) what he's going to do next, offered this: “I'm very proud of the time that I've spent with the Galaxy, and it might continue. I think at the end of the day I have a big decision to make, but I obviously haven’t made one yet.”

WORTH NOTING: Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who impressed against the Galaxy for Costa Rican champion Alajuelense in CONCACAF Champions League action, says he's been offered a two-year deal by L.A. He's also considering a three-year contract from Alajuela. “I'm postponing [a decision] as long as possible because the truth is that I don't know what decision to make,” he told Costa Rican daily La Nacion. “The economics [of the Galaxy offer] is very good.” ... The Alessandro Del Piero rumors have been rekindled. Montreal sporting director Nick De Santis told Le Journal de Montreal that the Impact have been in touch with the Italian star but that his focus “is turned toward New York or Los Angeles.”