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Calling the shots for Beckham

CARSON, Calif. – David Beckham is the first to admit that his personality contains a powerful streak of stubbornness, a trait that has helped him reach the top of his profession. He has always demanded more of himself, and he does not appreciate those who doubt his ability to perform any challenge he sets his mind to.

However, unless the England midfielder wants to sap the momentum from the impact he is making on the United States, he has to accept he is not superhuman and must balance his commitments to club and country in a more sensible and realistic fashion.

Watching him hobble exhaustedly through the closing minutes of the Los Angeles Galaxy's 3-0 defeat to Chivas USA on Thursday night was a sad and unfair reflection of his abilities – and it should have been avoided.

Beckham arrived in California just hours before kickoff, having spent a full 90 minutes on the pitch against Germany at London's Wembley Stadium on Wednesday, then around 11 hours on a transatlantic flight. Factor in an eight-hour time difference as well and the decision to start him, and keep him in for the entire game at the Home Depot Center, bordered on madness.

Yet the decision was his, and his alone.

Galaxy coach Frank Yallop did not expect Beckham to figure into Thursday's game after seeing his heavy involvement in England's friendly, but the player was adamant he could take the field. There lies the problem – and there began a vicious cycle.

Once Beckham was in the game, it became increasingly harder to take him out. One option would have been to remove him at halftime, but that went out the window when midfield partner Kevin Harmse was red-carded just before the break.

Then, as Chivas took control, the need to chase the game – and desperately required points – took precedent over common sense.

It is a dangerous situation when a player gets to choose whether he is involved in a game, and to what extent. The balance of power at the Galaxy needs to be shifted to a scenario where Yallop listens to Beckham's analysis of his own physical condition, but the coach makes the final call.

Beckham was irked by criticism during his layoff, which was caused by a troubled left ankle that delayed his start with the Galaxy, and he seems determined to prove he is not "soft." It's an admirable sentiment, but this is not the right way of going about it.

If he had restricted himself to around half an hour (like Landon Donovan, who played in the U.S.'s friendly in Sweden on Wednesday), the 27,000 in attendance and the national television audience would still have been happy.

Once Beckham was named on the teamsheet, there was potential for trouble. Chivas, largely ignored by the media since Beckham docked in southern California, clearly had a point to prove, despite its collective insistence that this was "just another game."

Yeah, right. If this was just another game, then Jesse Marsch would not have hooked his boot into Beckham's midriff from behind at the end of the first half, prompting an angry response from the Galaxy star and igniting an ugly melee that saw Harmse and Chivas's Alex Zotinca sent off.

Yallop and his opposite coaching number Preki had 15 minutes to reshuffle, yet it was Chivas who came out with more ideas and better flow and went on to claim a morale-boosting victory.

While the Galaxy dressing room resembled a morgue afterward, there was joy and excitement for Chivas, which seem to be ploughing a path toward the playoffs as, unlike their neighbors, one of Major League Soccer's in-form teams.

Marsch, who admitted he had deliberately fouled Beckham but did not intend such a crude challenge, could not resist taking a swipe at the struggling Galaxy's approach, with comments that will certainly endear the tough midfielder further to Chivas' passionate fans.

"It is hard to figure out what is going on with the Galaxy," Marsch said. "They have got so many interesting pressures on them and it's almost not about what's on the field. It is about everything else.

"They have got to figure out quickly what is happening on the field so they can get in a position to look like a real team."

That will be painful to hear for the Galaxy, but Marsch's comments are not without truth. However, having gone down this path, there is a limit to what L.A. can do.

There is little point having the most famous soccer player in the world if you are not going to promote him, and it is clearly of heavy importance that Beckham sees as much playing time as possible. But the England situation must be sorted with immediate effect. Hopefully, lessons will be learned from this experience.

Perhaps it is fortunate that England's next game is on Sept. 8, clashing directly with a Galaxy fixture against the Colorado Rapids. However invincible Beckham feels, thankfully it is physically impossible for him to play in England and the United States on the same day.