By: Alex Baker
Cason, CA – David Beckham’s return to action marked the Galaxy’s return to winning ways as the L.A. side registered a decisive 3-1 victory over the Columbus Crew Saturday night. In his own words, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, “was pleased with our performance tonight. I think our team played quite well.”
Indeed, the Galaxy, who have made a habit of conceding early goals of late, grabbed an early lead themselves in the 13th minute. It was Edson Buddle who got onto a good cross from Sean Franklin and drove the ball into the back of the net from close range.
And while David Beckham started the match on the bench it was the return of Juninho to the starting eleven that seemed to have an immediate positive impact on the team. The Brazilian added the dash of creativity the Galaxy had been lacking in midfield lately. As Galaxy captain Landon Donovan put it, “Juninho is so good on the ball. He makes us a different team when he’s in there we move the ball better. We’re more active, we take more chance because we know he’s gonna do a good job on the ball.”
The Galaxy were thoroughly dominant for the first 45 minutes. What little traffic that did flow towards their goal was ably snuffed out by keeper, Donovan Rickets. Columbus’ only real threatening first half moment came in the 20th minute when Steven Lenhart broke down the right and fired a shot on target forcing Rickets into a dynamic save.
Galaxy midfielder Alex Cazumba nearly doubled the score in the 30th minute when he found space in front of goal and put his shot just wide of the far post. But it would be Dema Kovalenko who would ultimately double the Galaxy’s lead. The midfielder received a good through ball from Donovan in the 36th minute and drove it past Columbus keeper, William Hesmer.
Cazumba nearly scored again in the 41st minute when he broke through the Crew’s back four only to put his shot well wide of the far post. But as the first half wound to a close, the match was definitely in the Galaxy’s hands.
Chris Birchall at the start of the second half replaced Edson Buddle, who had apparently been experiencing cramping. Ten minutes later Dema Kovalenko made it a brace when he received the ball from Jovan Kirovski and once again put it into the back of the Columbus net making it 3-0, Galaxy.
Goals aside, Kovalenko had a particularly good night in midfield. In Arena’s words he, “played quite well. The goal surprised us all. That’s usually not Dema’s forte’ but he played a very good overall game. His intensity in the midfield and work ethic is important.”
As the match entered its final 25 minutes the Crew couldn’t seem to mount a serious threat on goal. Every time they came forward the Galaxy back four effectively dispatched the danger. In Donovan’s words, “Tonight we were very competitive. Most of the 50-50 plays we came out on top of.”
Donovan’s speed and technical skill were particularly evident against the Crew. The Galaxy captain continually used his pace to break down the right and make harassing runs at the defense. Coach Arena was unsurprised by the midfielder’s impact, explaining that, “Wherever Landon Donovan plays we should have an advantage in that area and I’ve made that clear to him. I think in every game Landon needs to win the matchup and dominate that territory and I think he did that tonight.”[picappgallerysingle id=”9740697″]
The substitution Galaxy and soccer fans everywhere had been waiting for came in the 71st minute when Juninho was taken off to make way for David Beckham. The England international received a resounding applause upon entering the match and his every touch seemed to be cheered by fans. In fairness the player looked lively but seemed to lack match sharpness.
Still Beckham was upbeat about his performance saying that, “Being out there for 20 minutes felt good.”
Indeed the midfielder was immediately involved in the match. He put a ball through for Donovan, who passed it back into the middle for the Englishmen who shot on target but had his effort blocked. Three minutes later he received a yellow card for a high boot against Eddie Gaven. Beckham, for his part, did not seem to think it was a serious offense, saying that he knew the referee quite well and that “I think he was kind of joking giving me (the card).”
Beckham gave credit to the positive influence of friends, colleagues, doctors and teammates for aiding in his speedy recovery. He even identified one particularly `special’ well-wisher.
“One of the first people to actually send me a message saying stay positive was Jose Mourinho,” Beckham explained. Adding that, “The morning I woke up after the injury that was the first message I got.”
The Crew finally managed to pull one back in the 85th minute. Andres Mendoza received a pass from Andy Iro, found space on the right and sent his shot to the far post leaving Rickets stranded. The last action of regular time was a corner for the Galaxy. It was taken by Donovan and passed to Beckham who overshot it. After two minutes of added time the Galaxy emerged with a well-deserved 3-1 win.
Landon Donovan summed up their victory in a few words.
“This year I think when we’ve scored first I don’t think we’ve lost. And conversely when we give up the first goal we haven’t done well. Pretty basic strategy.”