CARSON, Calif. – The worst possible news for the Los Angeles Galaxy could also turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Thursday afternoon's gloomy prognosis on David Beckham's right knee will be seen by some as the most serious setback yet to an experiment that has been thrown off course by one obstacle after another.
Yet it also provides the Galaxy an opportunity to get back to something they've been sorely lacking: normality.
The England midfielder's strain to his medial collateral ligament will offer time for reflection and better preparation for next season now that this doomed campaign is empty of realistic, if not mathematical, playoff life.
The whirlwind of publicity that has surrounded the club since the announcement of Beckham's arrival has forced the Galaxy to do their learning on the run, and they will be the first to admit mistakes have been made. For at least the next six weeks, the Galaxy can take a long, hard look at themselves and decide exactly which path they want to head down.
There will be tough decisions to be made. The first is likely to involve the future of coach Frank Yallop, as rumors of his dismissal continue to gather pace.
It would be an easy option to get rid of Yallop – coaches have been fired for far less than five straight league defeats in the past – but it would be dangerous to regard that course of action as the answer to all of L.A.'s problems.
Yallop has the support of the dressing room, and several Galaxy players admitted they were fighting for the boss when they put in such a spirited performance Wednesday to even the SuperLiga final against Pachuca before losing on penalties.
Furthermore, Yallop has built up a rapport with Beckham over the last couple of months. The two trust each other, and it would take time for a replacement to develop a similar relationship and create an appropriate balance between the former Manchester United and Real Madrid superstar and younger teammates earning as little as $17,700 a year.
Either way, firm action needs to be taken. Either Yallop remains in control and is given the full and complete backing of president Alexi Lalas and owners AEG, or it is time to look elsewhere.
On the playing front, some new faces will undoubtedly be needed. The Galaxy have struggled with injuries, but even at full strength parts of the team need patching up.
Carlos Pavon does not appear to be the answer in attack, having mixed one impressive display against the New York Red Bulls, when he converted two Beckham crosses into goals, with some thoroughly inept performances. Help is needed in defense, where Abel Xavier can be a steadying presence for only as many games as his aging legs will allow him to play, and there is precious little strength in depth despite the recent emergence of the tenacious Mike Randolph.
The handling of Beckham will also need some alteration, starting with allowances for his own competitive spirit and heart.
The Galaxy have already learned from their mistake of playing Beckham against Chivas USA just a day after he performed for England against Germany in London, and they must not again allow him to jeopardize his long-term health for the sake of one match.
Beckham can still be effective for the full five years of his contract provided that a cautious and sensible approach is exercised, irrespective of whether fans around the country feel let down if he does not make it to their city.
Some will point to the fact that Beckham has spent more time in front of the television cameras talking to the press than he has in competitive action for the Galaxy, and those critics will use it as a stick to beat him with. Yet while those barbs are unlikely to hurt a man who has lived through more than his fair share of criticism, it is both untrue and unfair to suggest he would not love to be out on the field for every minute of every game.
But soccer players do not always know what is best for them. That is why coaches, general managers and agents have jobs.
That reserved approach should start at the end of this season. The six-week rest prescribed by Dr. Ronald Kvitne takes Beckham up to Oct. 11 – 10 days shy of the end of Major League Soccer's regular season. There would surely be little point in bringing him back for what are likely to be three meaningless games.