David Beckham provided an interesting contrast between the past and the present when he joined his former teammates for a training session on Tuesday morning.David Beckham represents the old way of doing business in southern California, a star among stars capable of attracting notice from disparate sources. He is a singular force in world football, but there are other stars capable of contributing a meager slice of what he supplied on and off the field. More than a few of them were linked with a move to the Galaxy this summer.
Those avenues – barring some unexpected exit by Robbie Keane during the close season – closed when Landon Donovan reportedly agreed to terms on a contract extension with the club. Sports Illustrated reported the news on Tuesday. Donovan and the Galaxy will presumably confirm it today in a press conference at the StubHub Center.
In one fell swoop, the Galaxy retained its biggest star and underscored its commitment to a revamped path for its trio of Designated Players. A global star may complement the group in place at another juncture, but the club's identity is forged by Donovan and Omar Gonzalez now.
It is a bold policy, particularly for a team with the resources to exceed the $4 million base salary paid to Keane (per MLS Players Union documents) for the right player. Galaxy investor/operators AEG splashed the cash on Beckham in the past. They could have opened their wallets for another star with significant cachet in the game and thanked Donovan for his service at the end of the year when his contract expired. It might have looked and felt a little bit funny to see Donovan walk out the door, but it certainly constituted a viable option for a side that could use a fresh face to reinvigorate its fickle market.
Those valid considerations ultimately yielded to an ample dose of common sense: Donovan and the Galaxy represent the perfect match, particularly in a World Cup year. Donovan is the country's biggest soccer star by some distance (Clint Dempsey doesn't even appear in a search of the Q Scores database, according to the survey company's website) and he likes playing in southern California. He stands on the cusp of the league's goalscoring record, a mark he can and should break in rather short order. And he does not need the hassle or the risk involved with settling into a new club and a new country after serving his penance and working his way back into the U.S. national team.
Dempsey's lucrative deal likely complicated the negotiations a touch and perhaps resulted in a deserved raise, but Donovan and the Galaxy found a way to prolong their partnership and set a new course for the club in the process. By extending Gonzalez (even if the circumstances change and he decides to move overseas for a lucrative fee after the World Cup) and retaining Donovan, the Galaxy cast its lot with its U.S. national team core and reinforced the principles used to win MLS Cup in the past two seasons.
Even with Beckham in the fold, the Galaxy operated best as a cohesive unit rather than a star-enabling collection of players. The success during the Beckham era only arrived when the former England captain integrated into the team and the squad sorted out its natural pecking order. Beckham still presented the inevitable distractions and trappings caused by his mere presence and the associated burdens accompanying it, but he plied his trade within a functional framework designed to churn out results nonetheless.
Much of that infrastructure – including the vital presence of manager Bruce Arena – remains in place as the Galaxy tries to claim its third consecutive title. It bends to accommodate Donovan from time to time without sacrificing its underpinnings. Donovan and Keane serve as the matchwinners more often than not, but they operate within the established boundaries and serve the needs of the team.
Those principles – plus a host of other considerations surrounding Donovan and the club's future – led the Galaxy to reject the idea of returning to the Beckham model and stick with the key members of its current squad for the short- and medium-term. The revamped approach fronted by Donovan and Gonzalez makes sense on both accounts. And it also ensures Beckham – even when he returns for a day or two – remains a figure without a successor for the foreseeable future.