Sunday, August 19, 2007

An M.L.S. Rivalry Begins to Stir

An M.L.S. Rivalry Begins to Stir

David Beckham during a clinic Friday. A big crowd is expected
Saturday night at Giants Stadium to see the Galaxy-Red Bulls game.
Photo: Robert Caplin for The New York Times

Published: August 19, 2007

East Rutherford, N.J.

The world-renowned right foot of David Beckham came to the swamplands last night and somehow induced one of the wildest offensive games anybody is likely to see in Major League Soccer, or anywhere.

Beckham’s famous foot set up two goals within eight minutes, but the Red Bulls managed to pull out a bizarre 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy on two goals each from Juan Pablo Ángel and Jozy Altidore.

There were so many goals that even Americans who grump about the lack of scoring in this sport might have found something to appreciate, if they had been among the 66,237 paying fans. The crowd was the highest for a league game in Giants Stadium since June 22, 1980, when galácticos like Beckenbauer and Chinaglia strode the land for the Cosmos.

“I haven’t been involved in a game like that since I was 9 or 10 years old,” Beckham said.

This time the attraction was the first M.L.S. start by Beckham, who had been bothered by an ankle injury sustained in June. Many fans arrived wearing the Jordan-inspired No. 23 on the white Galaxy jersey, for which they had paid plenty, and then they booed Beckham every time he teed up a free kick or a corner kick.

Apparently, the Red Bulls had never seen spinning projectiles like the ones Beckham launched in the general direction of his new teammate, Carlos Pavón, a 33-year-old Honduran who has played in fast company in Spain, Italy and Mexico.

Although only 5 feet 9 inches tall, Pavón was able to reach the two missiles and spin them past the goalkeeper, Ronald Waterreus. Beckham had also mesmerized the D.C. United goalkeeper, Troy Perkins, in a SuperLiga match Wednesday night, spinning a 28-yard free kick against the inside of the net. Waterreus must have figured out that the slender bloke can do things with the ball that the other people in M.L.S. cannot do, because the next time Beckham let loose, Waterreus stirred into action and punched the ball away.

This was the first appearance by Beckham in the New York area as part of M.L.S. Asked Friday to compare the rivalry between the Red Bulls and the Galaxy, Beckham had referred to “the Yankees and Dodgers — am I right here?”

As a man who named his firstborn Brooklyn (that holy borough is where he and his wife, Posh Spice, were when they heard they were expecting), Beckham does have a feel for things American, and not only deposits into his account, either.

The Yankees and the Dodgers have not met in the so-called World Series since 1981, but they are mythic rivals forever. The Galaxy and the Red Bulls have not exactly struck sparks in the first 11 years of the league, but they are separately emerging from the old conservative game plan.

Beckham, the $32.5 million symbol of new priorities, created the flashbulb-popping, souvenir-shopping frenzy. The Red Bulls are taking a different path, stocking up on talent as different as Ángel, a 31-year-old Colombian, and Altidore, a 17-year-old American.

Going into this year, the Red Bulls had a record of 134 victories, 157 losses and 47 draws, but with last night’s narrow escape they have a record of 10-7-3 this season. Coach Bruce Arena has no problem with the Beckham model of urban renewal.

“David Beckham is a whole different animal,” Arena said the other day, comparing Beckham, 32, with some of the older stars who have played in this league.

“Let’s be fair about David Beckham,” Arena said, as close to gushing as he ever comes. “All right, maybe he wasn’t the FIFA player of the year, but he’s done just about everything else in his career. This guy is the real deal. Maybe he’s not Ronaldinho or Zidane or the Pelés of the world, but he’s fantastic.”

Meanwhile, Arena has put together a potent team with Ángel, from Medellín, previously a striker for Aston Villa in the English Premier League. Arena had been following him from afar but didn’t think he could get him.

With his two goals last night, Ángel has scored 12 goals in 13 league games. Part of his success comes from being paired with the 6-1, 175-pound Altidore, who was born in Livingston, N.J., to parents of Haitian descent.

“The most impressive thing about him is that he is a bright young man, a respectful young man, very, very unique,” Arena said of Altidore. “He doesn’t shoot his mouth off, even if he disagrees with you. He listens. He was brought up the right way.”

Altidore has scored seven goals this year, after scoring the Red Bulls’ only goal in last year’s playoffs. Now that Beckham is here, the league must be delighted it has Altidore locked up in a long-term contract to keep him from flying to a fast league across the ocean, in the opposite direction Beckham just traveled.



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