A record crowd, a tie game, but no Beckham

David Beckham flew to London for the royal wedding, but didn't come to Philadelphia to play the Union. (Jasper Julien/AP)
David Beckham flew to London for the royal wedding, but didn't come to Philadelphia to play the Union. (Jasper Julien/AP)
Posted: May 12, 2011

Multimillion-dollar contracts don't buy what they used to, and for fans of the Union, the largesse bestowed upon David Beckham couldn't buy them a chance to hoot once again at the gaudy L.A. Galaxy hood ornament.

Becks didn't make the trip to Chester for Wednesday night's Major League Soccer match at PPL Park. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena let him stay behind in Los Angeles to rest up for a Saturday home game. Arena shrugged and said that if the league wants one of its showcase attractions to show up for every game, then it shouldn't schedule three games in the space of 10 days.

There's no question that a cross-country round trip might take a little from the legs of the 36-year-old Beckham, but he was able to fly to London, dance every dance at the royal wedding, and then make it to Dallas two days later for a match. Arena, as far as we know, didn't complain about the social scheduling decisions of the Windsor family.

Ah, well. These are the small indignities the MLS must endure on occasion. Paying Beckham $6.5 million to trot around and wait for the next free kick does add some juice to things when he can work an appearance into his itinerary. So we'll just have to understand that his promise to do everything within his power to help grow American professional soccer doesn't always include playing three games in 10 days.

Even without Beckham on the other side, it was a good game to circle on the calendar. The Union have never beaten the Galaxy, and measuring their progress against one of the better teams in the league is always instructive. A record crowd of 19,178 showed up for the measurement - hey, it looked good on the schedule - and saw that, Beckham or no Beckham, the Union still have trouble putting the ball in the net. The final result was a 1-1 tie that the Union and their supporters gladly will take.

As it turned out, the L.A. goal was sort of a fluke and the Philadelphia goal was a generous gift. The lone Los Angeles score is the sort of thing that happens when the ball is skittering around in the box. If it had been at the other end of the field, then Landon Donovan's garbage shot - a scuffed near-whiff in the 24th minute after his neat heel pass bounced off teammate Juan Pablo Angel - would never have happened.

But the Union were tentative in the midfield in the first half and allowed the Galaxy to walk too deeply into the offensive end. On another night, Los Angeles might have converted a goal or two and then needed just to coast through a defensive second half.

As it was, that very nearly happened with just the one-goal lead. The Union's offense was only sporadically dangerous, which has been a problem all season. The chemistry that might one day develop up front between Sebastien Le Toux and newcomer Carlos Ruiz is still a work in progress, and the team still is figuring out how to use young offensive talent Danny Mwanga, who was inserted into the midfield only for the second half.

Still, the second half was more active and the Union finally created some chances. It was pressure applied to the Los Angeles back line that resulted in the tying goal in the 84th minute. Mwanga rushed defender Sean Franklin, hoping to force a back pass he could steal. That's exactly what happened, but only because Franklin gagged the pass, and his short-legged effort to the goalkeeper was easily overtaken by Mwanga. One juke around keeper Donovan Ricketts and Mwanga was in alone against a virtually empty goal. He was issued a yellow card for the shirtless celebration run that followed, but coach John Hackworth didn't mind.

"It didn't bother me," said Hackworth, who was standing in for team manager Peter Nowak. "It might bother the league, but it didn't bother me."

The Union aren't scoring enough goals - six all season - to throw one back for being unearned, and any celebration is a good one at this point. They took the draw gladly and moved on.

"We were well in control of that game," Arena sniffed afterward. "We were positioned to get two or three more goals, and that's disappointing."

Maybe the presence of a world class ball-striker might have made a difference for the Galaxy on some of those chances, but we'll never know. The most famous player in the MLS was left home to rest. That was a little disappointing, too. The league deserves to be more than a diversion between social engagements.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com and read his blog at http://www.philly.com/postpatterns

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