HONOLULU – The Los Angeles Galaxy have no intention of shedding their status as Major League Soccer's highest-profile team, but the club's players and staff are looking forward to the spotlight on them dimming slightly this season.
While David Beckham's second season in MLS will still generate plenty of attention, the fervor should be somewhat less than the whirlwind of activity that greeted his arrival in the United States last year.
Even for the Pan-Pacific Championship in Hawaii, local publicity surrounding the event has been not just centered on Beckham but also been focused – to some extent – on the Houston Dynamo's Brian Ching, a Hawaiian native.
Although the Galaxy's hiring of Ruud Gullit as head coach added an extra dose of star power, public interest now seems to be concentrated more toward the product on the field rather than Beckham's impact off it. Bluntly speaking, the Galaxy have moved clear of the realms of the "freak show" mentality.
Now, people want to see how good this team really is.
"I am not sure if the interest is dissipating at all," Galaxy president Alexi Lalas said. "But we have learned some lessons from last year and we are better for the experience. We want other players to shoulder some of the load, both in performance and leadership.
"We are much happier with the way the scheduling has gone this year and it is certainly more realistic."
Ah yes, the schedule. Lalas was criticized for complaining too strongly about the havoc caused by five games in 13 days last August, but his reasoning was sound.
The amount of travel reached such levels that former coach Frank Yallop was often unable to host proper training sessions as his players were already exhausted. Moreover, Yallop could not risk further injury to an already-thin squad.
"We will be better prepared for things this time around," midfielder Chris Klein said. "Things probably won't be quite as intense and we will be looking for a much better season."
In 2007, MLS scheduled a batch of road games to coincide with Beckham's arrival and, in effect, take him to the nation. With Beckham here for the entire season this year instead of arriving in June, the overscheduling issue has effectively disappeared.
Indeed, the preseason campaign might prove to be the most grueling part of the Galaxy's year, with the Pan-Pacific Championship to be followed by a three-stop tour of Asia.
On Tuesday, Beckham and five of his younger teammates spent the afternoon at a coaching clinic in Waianae, an hour away from their hotel in Honolulu. The England international spent more than an hour playing five-a-side mini games with children ranging in age from five to 14.
Many onlookers were surprised at the enthusiasm with which Beckham approached the session, but the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star has always stated that such scenarios make him feel the most comfortable.
The demand for Beckham's photo and autograph from the 150 kids in attendance was as insatiable as expected, and that scene is likely to be repeated elsewhere. So when we talk about the changes in his second MLS season, it is relative.
Yet while differences may be subtle, they will be notable. Toronto FC is unlikely to have to book a basketball arena to host Beckham's news conference this year. As far as his teammates are concerned, not every question they are asked by the media will be about Beckham.
Maybe every second one.