COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Major League Soccer's decision to pack the Los Angeles Galaxy's August schedule to maximize the exposure of David Beckham has come under attack from team president Alexi Lalas.
"We sure as hell are not going to put up with having another season like this," Lalas said in an exclusive interview with Yahoo! Sports after his club lost its fifth straight league game Sunday, a 3-0 defeat to the Colorado Rapids.
Beckham and seven other first-team regulars were either missing through injury or rest following an exhausting stretch of travel and matches. While the attention generated by Beckham's arrival in America has spawned a huge increase in revenues from ticket sales and merchandising, the Galaxy feel they have paid the biggest price with a 3-10-5 record.
MLS was so proud of Beckham's decision to join the league that it wanted to parade him all over the country and maximize the inevitable exposure he would bring. The problem is that the severe manipulation of L.A.'s schedule by league chiefs has been somewhat self-defeating and is creating some embarrassing side effects.
The Galaxy have increasingly looked like a patched-up and leg-weary team after being asked to jet around the country and take on fresher and healthier opposition every few days. Even if Beckham's ankle injury had not flared up, it still would not have been a good idea to impose such a punishing itinerary on a 32-year-old coming off a tough season in Spain.
As the league's most high-profile player, Beckham was always going to be standing in the spotlight with his performances judged accordingly. Such a congested schedule, however, dilutes his ability to give a true reflection of his talent and has effectively crushed any chance of the league's dream scenario – Beckham and the Galaxy making a playoff run.
"We have bent over backwards to help everybody but the Galaxy," Lalas said. "A lot of people have made a tremendous amount of money on the back of what the Galaxy has brought to their markets this year and I hope that they remember that going forwards.
"Have we played well? No. But this ridiculous schedule that we have been saddled with in an effort to appease absolutely everybody, on and off the field, has taken its toll."
That toll has been brutally exposed in the last two Galaxy games. Against Chivas USA, Frank Yallop's side looked worn out after back-to-back trips to the East Coast. Then on Sunday, a slick and well-organized Colorado squad steamrolled what was effectively a Galaxy reserve team.
"If I am being self-critical, I don't think that we recognized the effect and the challenge it was going to pose – the toll it would take on our team," Lalas said. "Whether it is the travelling, or the number of games, the surfaces we have been playing on, the lack of consistent scheduling – we have had to learn on the fly.
"We are learning our lessons and making our mistakes in front of the world. This is the brave new world we find ourselves in."
High-profile organizations with big-name players rarely attract genuine sympathy (and Lalas surely is not asking for it), but this point needs to be addressed because there is something bigger at stake – the credibility of the league.
In other countries, critics of MLS see it as a product that is in some ways contrived. They don't like a playoff system which could see the eighth-best regular-season finisher crowned as champion. They don't like franchising, which can allow a team to relocate to a city thousands of miles away on the whim of an owner. They don't like the fact that a team – however badly it performs – cannot be relegated to a lower league, and that bad teams get help in a draft.
The concepts all have merit in MLS, but the extreme re-juggling of the playing schedule based around one player leaves a nasty taste and does no one, least of all Beckham and his teammates, any favors.
Hopefully, the league will show some restraint before the schedule makers sit down with their calendars to plan next season, even if Beckham's England squad qualifies for the summer's 2008 European Championships. If not, expect some explosive objections from the Galaxy, who should stop being treated as a travelling circus troupe and start being allowed to exist as a soccer team.