GALAXY: Beckham's return eases concern
The news that David Beckham has re-signed with the Galaxy might have provided a good deal of relief inside Major League Soccer's signature club had it really been news.
Wednesday's announcement that the league's biggest star would be back in 2012 -- and 2013, it turns out -- was the culmination of negotiations that crept on for two weeks after we'd learned, pretty authoritatively, that Beckham was staying in L.A.
Perhaps the possibility he might change his mind existed, in some form or other, but his choice to remain in Southern California rather than reap Qatari riches with Paris Saint-Germain, we expect him to affirm in Thursday afternoon's Staples Center news conference, was all about family.
He wasn't going anywhere, and that's important for so many reasons -- marketing, promotion and MLS's image abroad included -- but his return might be most vital on the field, where the Galaxy faces a difficult and potentially turbulent campaign.
The departure of Brazilian youngster Juninho, Beckham's do-everything partner in the middle of L.A.'s midfield, and a potentially season-ending knee injury to defensive linchpin Omar Gonzalez has left the reigning MLS Cup champions in a tough spot as they prepare to open their preseason camp this weekend. There are questions all over the field, along with doubts that so many role players, maybe a half-dozen so critical to the Galaxy's success last season, can build on career-best campaigns.
Head coach Bruce Arena and his staff must rebuild to some extent, which is fine -- it's what Arena is so good at, what he loves to do. Gonzalez's torn anterior cruciate ligament is the guiding force, of course, and could affect plans in midfield and up front as L.A. maneuvers to replace the big man.
Central midfield is the other area of great concern, and had Beckham chosen to go to France or England or any of the unlikelier destinations dangled his way, the Galaxy would be starting over, to some extent, just like they did when Arena took charge in August 2008.
Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who was the Costa Rican league's player of the year, arrives from Alajuelense to take Juninho's slot, although others -- third-year UCLA product Michael Stephens perhaps foremost among them -- also have designs on the job. If Chris Birchall returns, he's a candidate. His performance in the playoff second leg against New York suggests a good one, too.
Whomever wins the assignment, their role is clear. As Arena noted last week, “Whenever we play David centrally, the player next to David moves off of David.” Translation: Beckham does as he pleases, and his partner provides everything required so he can do so effectively.
That might be disastrous with a player less committed than is Beckham, whose work ethic and defensive diligence is legendary. Building a relationship takes time, and Beckham, who will be in at the start of camp for the first time, can start to work on his with Sarvas when L.A. hits the field Monday.
The Galaxy's attack is built around Beckham's singular ability to find teammates and connect with them from distance. If L.A. is going to pair captain Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane up top -- as in the crucial last half-hour of the MLS Cup final -- the partnership's success is going to depend greatly upon Beckham's contribution.
Beckham, Donovan and Keane are an attacking trio no other team in this league can match; the importance of that can't be understated. If the Galaxy are going to win a third straight Supporters' Shield, if they're going to contend for another MLS Cup title, if they're going to make a real run for a CONCACAF Champions League crown (and the FIFA Club World Cup berth that goes with it), it's going to require their Designated Players to earn the money they're paid.
Beckham's presence and the stability he brings to central midfield will inform what the Galaxy achieves in 2012, and it frees Arena and his staff to focus on rebuilding at the back, which ultimately will determine how far the club goes.