Having failed to pick up full points in their third straight league game, the LA Galaxy need something special right now.
If the Galaxy are going to stave off Columbus and Real Salt Lake and lay claim to the Supporters' Shield, and if they're going to reach MLS Cup for the second consecutive year, the team needs a change.
David Beckham should provide that change. The Galaxy’s Beckham-less days are apparently over. On Saturday, Los Angeles played what could be their last game sans Beckham.
On Saturday, Chicago threatened to shut the Galaxy out, which would have been LA's third consecutive scoreless outing. But Omar Gonzalez's stoppage-time goal canceled out an 88th-minute Fire goal as the teams tied 1-1 at Toyota Park.
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“We’ve played with more intensity today, it was a better performance," head coach Bruce Arena said. "Our last two to four weeks the performance wasn’t good. Our performance today was much better than it’s been."
As strong as the late comeback was, the team needs to get back to its winning ways, and their star Englishman should hold the key.
Beckham announced earlier in the week his intentions of returning to action on Sept. 11, when the Galaxy return home to play the Columbus Crew in what could be a pivotal, Shield-deciding match. And even if it’s just a 20-minute appearance, Beckham has to hit the ground running.
Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to ask one person to carry such a burden, but Beckham is not just one person, not just any other player.
While other players on the Galaxy are better goal-scorers, better defenders and perhaps a bit more fit, Beckham needs to live up to his Designated Player status and prove his worth on the field. LA have not been consistently dangerous with the ball for most of the last two months.
Against San Jose, the Galaxy peppered Jon Busch with shots but Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen had only to come up with a pair of saves to keep them from scoring. Whether that's a tactical issue Beckham can clear up or whether it is a much-needed spark he can provide, the Galaxy need to have more of an oomph, more of the bite and grit the team displayed from March through June.
“We need to liven things up a little bit,” Landon Donovan said earlier in the week. “When David gets back – I think David will help a lot. We need some fresh energy.”
The players in place have done well to take the team to the top of the league. From Day One, the Galaxy showed their 2009 season was no fluke as defense and timely scoring kept the squad ahead of the rest of the league.
But a lead that had been built up tremendously by the time the World Cup break hit has slowly been whittled down. Before Saturday’s games, Columbus trailed the Galaxy by just two points while Real Salt Lake, who pose a greater threat, were three back.
Columbus, after all, can finish ahead of the Galaxy without affecting their position in the Western Conference standings, but if RSL win the West, the road to MLS Cup 2010 may go through Rio Tinto.
“It usually happens this time of year in MLS," Donovan said after Saturday's match in Chicago. "Teams that get out fast have a tendency to get complacent and then everyone else is fighting for playoff spots.
"It’s going to keep getting tighter and tighter, and that’s what happens when everyone else has the same salary to spend. It’s normal, but we expect it every year. This year is no different.”
Having provided their opponents with a big target, the lead has narrowed. Beckham needs to provide the reinforcement, be the one-man cavalry and right the wrongs from these last two months.