Galaxy opponents are afraid to commit fouls anywhere near their box when David Beckham is on the field, for obvious reasons. When he's not, it's no big thing.
After Marcelo Sarvas' piece of brilliance Wednesday night, they might be rethinking that philosophy.
Sarvas, on for Beckham with 25 minutes to go in the Desert Diamond Cup group finale against New York, whistled a free kick from inside the semicircle above the box past Red Bulls rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara and inside the far post to provide L.A. a real highlight in an otherwise disappointing 2-1 defeat in Tucson, Ariz.
Chad Barrett's return to action, for the first time since brutally dislocating his ankle in the lead up to last November's MLS Cup final, was another plus, as was the effort by Canoga Park's Rafael Garcia -- the Cal State Northridge product making a strong bid for a roster spot on the eve of the league's compliance date.
But Omar Gonzalez's absence continues to loom large for L.A., which is just a week from its season opener and continues to struggle without the big man in the back.
Poor defending led to both New York goals, with Kenny Cooper easily broaching the backline to finish rookie Connor Lade's feed in the 31st minute and Thierry Henry running unhindered from midfield to the box, then playing a give-and-go of sorts with Dane Richards and nodding home the return in the 62nd. Rookie Tommy Meyer has great upside, but he's a rookie; Andrew Boyens, his partner on Wednesday, is a reserve, pure and simple. One of them likely will team with A.J. DeLaGarza in central defense, at least until Leonardo is ready to go, and he'll have not played in a year when he's expected to return to the field in April.
It has to be a concern for L.A., which has just one shutout in eight preseason games -- Saturday's 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake -- and has conceded 17 goals, at least two in six games. The five preseason losses, which matters not a whit, is as many as the Galaxy lost all last year in Major League Soccer play, including the postseason.
The Red Bulls were the superior side most of the night, and their victory would have been more pronounced if not for goalkeeper Josh Saunders' off-his-line stop on Richards, who split Boyens and DeLaGarza to run on to Teemu Tainio's superb through ball midway through the first half.
The Galaxy's best chances were, as usual, product of Beckham's right foot, but Meara -- despite a clumsy performance that betrayed his youth -- took care of the most dangerous moments until Sarvas halved the deficit with 12 minutes to go.
The attack, like the defense, is a work in progress. Landon Donovan has not yet trained fully, and Robbie Keane will join the team in the next couple of days, now that his loan deal with Aston Villa is over and Ireland's friendly Wednesday with the Czech Republic done.
The loss didn't hurt the Galaxy in the tournament standings; they finished second, ahead of Real Salt Lake and New York on goal difference, and will meet New England in Saturday's championship match. The Revolution, a 2-1 winner over RSL in the first game (on goals by Diego Fagundez and Bjorn Runstrom), beat L.A., 3-2, in the tournament opener.
WORTH NOTING: Donovan made his first appearance on the training field Tuesday, but all he did was jog. He's still recovering from a bout with bronchitis. … Keane played 70 minutes for Ireland, which rallied for a 1-1 draw on a late Simon Cox goal against the Czechs in Dublin. … The Galaxy also was without forward Edson Buddle, who was a last-minute substitute (for Clint Dempsey) in the U.S. national team's historic 1-0 win over Italy in Genoa, and midfielder Michael Stephens, who was with the U.S. under-23 national team (but did not play) for the 2-0 victory over Mexico in Frisco, Texas. Midfielder Dan Keat made his debut with New Zealand's national team, nearly scoring from distance in a 3-2 loss to Jamaica. … Beckham dealt with a couple of knocks during the game, to his right shin and left foot, before leaving in the 66th minute. … DeLaGarza started at left back, then switched to right back at halftime, when Bryan Gaul came on for Sean Franklin, who made his first game appearance since Feb. 7. … Hector Jimenez and Mike Magee saw time on each flank. … Barrett entered in the 73rd minute. ... Former Chicago defender Wilman Conde, brought in to solidify New York's backline, exited in the 19th minute after feeling a twinge in his thigh. … The Galaxy signed veteran Bill Gaudette to complete its goalkeeping corps, waiving Nick Noble to make space on the roster. … New York was without Rafa Marquez (Mexico), Joel Lindpere (Estonia) and Juan Agudelo (goalscorer for the U.S. U-23s), all on international duty.
DESERT DIAMOND CUP
Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium (Tucson, Ariz.)
Galaxy 1, New York Red Bulls 2
NY -- Kenny Cooper (Connor Lade) 31
NY -- Thierry Henry (Dane Richards) 62
LA -- Marcelo Sarvas 78
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin (Bryan Gaul, 46), Tommy Meyer, Andrew Boyens, A.J. DeLaGarza; Hector Jimenez (Pat Noonan, 88), David Beckham (Marcelo Sarvas, 66), Juninho (Rafael Garcia, 73), Mike Magee (Chad Barrett, 73); Paolo Cardozo, Adam Cristman (Jack McBean, 58).
New York: Ryan Meara; Jan Gunnar Solli, Markus Holgersson, Wilman Conde (Stephen Keel, 20), Connor Lade; Teemu Taino (Brandon Barklage, 76); Dane Richards, Dax McCarty, Mehdi Ballouchy; Kenny Cooper, Thierry Henry.
Yellow cards: Keel 28, Beckham 53.
Referee: Ismail Elfath. Att.: c. 6,000.
1. New England 3-0-0 (7-3 GF-GA) 9 points
2. Galaxy 1-2-0, (5-5) 3
3. Real Salt Lake 1-2-0 (2-4) 3
4. New York 1-2-0 (2-4) 3
Record: 3-5-0; vs. MLS: 2-5-0
Feb. 3 vs. L.A. Blues (USL Pro): W, 7-2 (Sarvas pen. 12, Dunivant 29, Cristman 36, 45, Cardozo 42, McBean 63, Nakazawa pen. 85)
Feb. 7 vs. Portland: L ,1-4 (Keat 80)
Feb. 10 vs. Houston: L, 0-1
Feb. 14 vs. Montreal: L, 0-3
Feb. 16 vs. Chivas USA: W, 3-2 (Noonan 21, Cristman 31, Keat 40)
Feb. 22 vs. New England: L, 2-3 (Buddle 31, Magee 38)
Feb. 25 vs. Real Salt Lake: T, 0-0 (Cardozo 80, Magee 86)
Feb. 29 vs. New York: L, 1-2 (Sarvas 78)
March 3 vs. New England at Tucson, Ariz.