CARSON, Calif. – After four long and often frustrating years, David Beckham has learned to bend it once again.
That famous right foot, so effective and prolific that it spawned the title of a movie, has been quiet for much of his Los Angeles Galaxy career, but its effectiveness has returned with a vengeance this season.
Beckham’s party trick from free kicks is a dynamic strike around the defensive wall and into the top corner, but for much of his pro career the bread and butter came from setting up goals for teammates from dead ball situations.
Yet in his first four seasons with the Galaxy he created only four assists from free kicks or corners, with two coming just weeks after arriving in Major League Soccer.
This year, however, he has managed five set play assists, the most recent coming at the Home Depot Center on Saturday night, as Beckham clipped a perfect connection onto the head of Chad Barrett for the only goal in a 1-0 victory over local rival Chivas USA.
“That has gone well this season,” Beckham said. “We have players here who can get on the end of that kind of ball and give us a chance of scoring. We need to continue that.”
When Beckham arrived in California in the summer of 2007, the implied promise was a significant rise in soccer interest throughout the U.S., plus a golden period of success for MLS best-known team. Neither vision materialized, but it can legitimately be said that the Galaxy has never looked better equipped to win a championship in the Beckham era.
In the final season of Beckham’s contract and with the MLS Cup final to be held at the Home Depot Center, the prospect of a dream end of his American adventure looks ever more realistic. The Galaxy is clear at the top of the Western Conference, and along with the Red Bulls, is very much the team to beat.
Beckham is enjoying his central midfield role, and while he may have lost a step, he remains a valuable contributor to an in-form team. His free kick for Barrett’s goal was as good as those from the old days at Manchester United or Real Madrid.
“He has made a living at doing that,” Arena said. “We get a lot of chances and a lot of goals from David’s service on set pieces. It is a real positive for us.”
Arena’s arrival in 2008 spawned an improvement in relations between Beckham and the club, and a strong sense of mutual respect exists between player and coach. Arena understands Beckham's obligations outside the team and has allowed him scheduling flexibility, which has been appreciated by Beckham.
Another example of that will occur next week. Beckham will be allowed to miss the Galaxy’s game at the New England Revolution in order to travel to England for his close friend and best man Gary Neville’s testimonial match.
“We discussed this for last month or two and there were a couple of issues,” Arena said. “The relationship that he has had with Gary Neville, his years at Manchester United and the story with that group of players meant that it was very special for him.”
Neville and Beckham were colleagues for one of United’s golden periods, including the 1999 season when the team won the English Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup. Arena confirmed that Beckham would have been rested for the game in New England in any case.
“I really appreciate being allowed to go and it was Bruce’s decision,” Beckham said. “It means a lot for me to be there for Gary and his family and to relive some old memories. It was such an important era for Manchester United, if we hadn’t been given the chance then history might have been very different.”
And for a glittering moment against Chivas USA, Beckham rekindled the past to the Galaxy's delight.