Lost amid all of the angst and all of the controversy generated by David Beckham and his actions over the past fortnight lays a fact often skipped over in the ruckus that almost always envelops him.
Beckham can still change and dictate games at the MLS level.
The former England captain brushed aside all of the negative headlines of the past week and turned back the years to submit a performance indicative of his lingering quality in Los Angeles' 5-3 victory at Portland on Saturday night.
This particular showing – right up until the clash with Brent Richards forced him from the field with apparent concussion-like symptoms eight minutes from time – offered an example of the 37-year-old midfielder at his best. He relied on the qualities he still possesses in spades to marshal control over the game and pin the Timbers to the wall in their first match under interim coach and general manager Gavin Wilkinson.
Wilkinson's peculiar choice of tactics played a fairly significant role in Beckham's success on the night. By setting the Timbers out in an ill-fitting and unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 setup, he ceded ground in areas where Beckham could drift into space (between the Timbers' central midfield triangle and on the flanks in the middle third) and use his blessed right peg to provide a steady diet of long diagonal balls. More often than not, Beckham used his intelligence to carve out time to push his side forward with that direct service. The passes didn't always hit their mark, but they almost always applied pressure to a Timbers group prone to individual mistakes and poor decisions even after they adjusted their shape in the second half.
Two such errors permitted Beckham to provide highlight-ready reminders of why he featured for the top clubs in the world during the course of his career.
Beckham's first goal stemmed from a galling lack of Portland pressure 30 yards from goal after 19 minutes. The veteran midfield man accepted the invitation to shoot and curled home into the far side of the net without a second thought. The simplicity of the opportunity – the effort appeared destined for the back of his net straight off his foot – did not detract from the aesthetic quality of the strike or the considerable skill required to muster it.
As if his first salvo did not suffice, Beckham offered a second goal of similar quality from a set piece five minutes later. Everyone in the ground knew what he would try to do – run up from the side, lift the ball over the wall and tuck it inside the near post – and yet no one clad in green could do a thing to stop the inevitable conclusion.
Those two goals represented a fine enough haul on the evening, but Beckham also played critical roles in two more Galaxy goals. He won possession in midfield to start the break on Robbie Keane's first goal after 28 minutes and provided a delightful pass down the sideline for Sean Franklin to square for Keane's second goal.
Of course, there were a couple of negatives – a failure to apply pressure on Kalif Alhassan before the cross that prompted Kris Boyd's opener and the usual bit of obnoxious remonstration toward officials and teammates from time to time – to the performance. Beckham is never flawless these days, but to harp on those minor flaws misses the grander point of this showing entirely.
Beckham remains fully capable of altering the course of a MLS match on any particular day. He may lack the extra yard of pace (not that he ever truly had it in the first place) to compete at the highest levels (and, indeed, maybe even the Olympics with its compressed time frame and the hectic tempo likely set by those younger players) and he may not always work his magic from week to week, but he still summons a performance every so often to offer a modest reminder as to why so much attention and emotion follows him around in the first place.
Five Points – Week 17
1. Is Roy Lassiter's goalscoring record in jeopardy?: No question whistled around MLS circles more quickly on Saturday night after Chris Wondolowski netted a hat trick in San Jose's surprising 5-0 demolition of 10-man Real Salt Lake at Buck Shaw Stadium. Wondolowski increased his haul to 17 goals in 18 appearances with his outburst against the Claret-and-Cobalt and placed himself within reasonable touching distance of Lassiter's 27-goal haul in 1996 in the process. Scoring eleven goals in 14 matches to break the record represents a reasonable, if difficult, rate of return for the mid-season leader in this year's MVP race to meet. Wondolowski's current form makes it a reasonable gamble nonetheless if he doesn't miss more than a game or two along the way.
2. Toronto FC's resurgence threatened by Danny Koevermans' injury: The prolific Dutch striker capped a splendid all-around performance in the first half of TFC's 1-0 victory at New England on Saturday night by suffering an apparent left knee injury. He promptly departed the field on a stretcher and left Reds coach Paul Mariner to wonder who would score the goals for his side (two wins on the trot) if the in-form front man (eight goals in his past 11 league matches, plus the assist on Luis Silva's match winner at Gillette Stadium) is ruled out for the foreseeable future.
“I fear the worst for Danny,” Mariner said after the match. “I've got my fingers crossed, but I spoke to the doctor from New England, who I have the highest regard for, and it doesn't sound too good.”
3. Finally, a reason to celebrate in Frisco...or not: FC Dallas ended its 13-match winless drought (a streak that stretched all the way back to April 14) with a fairly improbable and unexpected 2-1 victory at Colorado on Saturday night. Fabián Castillo provided the salvation from three months' of heartache with his 81st minute goal as Schellas Hyndman's side tasted victory for the first time in more than 90 days.
“Once we start collecting more wins, then we can start thinking about celebrating,” Castillo told reporters after the game.
4. Early Márquez injury paves way for New York's recovery: If the Mexico international remained alongside fellow lumbering center back Markus Holgersson for much longer than the 21 minutes he spent on the field in New York's 2-2 draw with Seattle, then the Red Bulls likely would have given up any designs on securing a result on the day. Sounders FC exploited the dearth of pace time and again in the opening period by asking Eddie Johnson to make runs through the middle the defense and sending extra bodies from midfield to provide further support. All of the movement left New York flummoxed at the back and permitted Sounders FC to claim an early goal through an Álvaro Fernandez header after just 16 minutes.
Márquez's calf injury prompted a wholesale shift for the experimental Red Bulls – ESPN cameras caught Thierry Henry signaling 4-4-2 with his hands after the sub as he pushed forward from a deeper role at the start of the match – and settled them into the game quite nicely. Wilman Conde's arrival on the scene and Sébastien Le Toux's quick response eight minutes after the opener dispelled some of the early doubts and set the Red Bulls on course toward parity for the remainder of the day. The final result isn't quite what they would have had in mind, but it sure beats how the game would have likely unfolded if Márquez had remained on the field.
5. If Sunday night marked his final game in MLS, then Geoff Cameron sure picked the right way to go out: Houston continued its staggering dominance over D.C. United in the state of Texas (8-0-1 in all competitions) with a 4-0 victory at BBVA Compass Stadium. Bill Hamid's dismissal after 17 minutes for a mistimed challenge on Macoumba Kandji in the penalty area and Brad Davis' subsequent goal from the spot all but rendered the match done and dusted. The lack of drama allowed the focus to shift to the most pressing topic for the Dynamo at the moment: the status of Cameron's move to Stoke City. MLS and Stoke City will continue discussions today as both sides attempt to bridge a $1 million gap between their valuations of the versatile U.S. international midfielder, according to the Houston Chronicle .
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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