Jonah Freedman
Saturday July 21st, 2007

CARSON, Calif. -- The circus is starting to take its toll on the Los Angeles Galaxy.

On the record, everyone associated with Major League Soccer's flashiest franchise swears up and down that, no, David Beckham's arrival isn't as much of a distraction as it seems, that the growing horde of media at the Home Depot Center isn't as noticeable as you'd think, that at the core of it, it's just a job that needs to be done.

Yeah, right. In reality, what the Galaxy are going through is like Tom Cruise snatching the starring role in the San Dimas High School production of Hair. Ever since Beckham's sensational move to MLS was announced in January, the entire franchise has been put under a microscope like no other team in league history.

I could list all the Beckham ads you've seen on TV or the endless Galaxy vs. Chelsea promos running around the clock on ESPN (Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET, in case you're comatose and missed it). But to me, the best example was last Friday. As I stood in line to get my credential for Beckham's official Galaxy unveiling, a crew from the BBC stood behind me, while in front of me, a Mexican reporter introduced himself to a Spanish reporter from Madrid's El Pais.

One week later, more than 10 cameras panned over to a Galaxy press-department representative when he made the announcement that Beckham wouldn't be participating in the final practice session here at the Home Depot Center before Saturday's big game.

This isn't an MLS environment. This is the World Cup.

"It's been a little crazy," goalkeeper Joe Cannon admitted on Friday. "We've got arguably the biggest sports icon in the world in our locker room and then we've got these guys straight out of college who grew up idolizing him."

My take? This team is handling Beckhamania about as well as Paris Hilton handles sound bites. On paper, the Galaxy have some of the best talent in MLS in the likes of Landon Donovan, journeyman Portuguese defender Abel Xavier and two-time goalkeeper of the year Cannon. They've got arguably one of the league's best coaches in Frank Yallop. And they've got the best ownership -- the Anschutz Entertainment Group -- perhaps in the history of American soccer.

And yet the Galaxy are (as the British press is gleefully fond of pointing out) second-to-last in the Western Conference with an unimpressive 3-5-4 record. They've gone through long stretches of ineptitude and almost as long stretches without scoring a goal. Two weeks ago they were knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup by the Richmond Kickers, a third-division team.

Team president and GM Alexi Lalas has left a bloodbath in his wake of the team's continuing underachievement. Since mid-June, he has shipped out Tyrone Marshall, Nate Jaqua, Santino Quaranta, Robbie Findley, Shavar Thomas and Nate Sturgis and has since suggested that some players couldn't handle the pressure.

A few weeks ago, one Galaxy player who didn't want to be named told me, "We're all a little scared and under a lot of pressure to start getting better -- otherwise we know we're out of here." Last week Quaranta, now with the New York Red Bulls, said Yallop and Lalas weren't on the same page and described the franchise as being in "chaos."

"There's definitely been some kind of cloud" over the team this season, Cannon said. "I don't know where it's coming from because we have such a good group of guys. It's about time for something to happen."

The situation hasn't improved as Beckham gets closer to making his L.A. debut. On Tuesday, the Galaxy were humiliated by Mexico's Tigres UANL 3-0 in their lead-in to Saturday's big Chelsea match. It was a game Yallop said was one of the "worst nights" he's had since taking over the team.

And it gets even worse for Los Angeles. The Galaxy's schedule is ridiculously back-loaded with 14 road matches in 24 games -- the Beckhamania North American Tour, if you will -- to capitalize on the team's biggest attraction. That means more media hordes (even in friendlies in Minneapolis and Vancouver) all the way until the playoffs begin in October.

The best medicine for the Galaxy now is to get Beckham's debut over with and move on. Or as defender Chris Albright said on Friday (with five cameras pointed at him), "We're trying to put this stuff in the back of our minds and focus on playing." Easier said than done.

• It's beginning to look like Beckham will make an appearance in Saturday's game after all, albeit a small one. According to Yallop, Becks' ankle is feeling slightly better. The Galaxy coach said Friday he won't include his star midfielder in the starting lineup, but intimated Beckham may be subbed in later in the game. "He desperately wants to play," Yallop said. If I were a gambling man, I'd say that if seeing Beckham play is all you care about, don't bother tuning in until the 80th minute at the earliest.

• Buenos Aires daily Clarín is reporting that D.C. United is prepared to offer former Manchester United and Inter Milan icon Juan Sebastián Verón $20 million to play at RFK Stadium. Verón reportedly has narrowed the list of clubs for whom he'll play next season to United and his current club, Estudiantes de La Plata, whom he helped to the Argentine 2006 Apertura title.

Not surprisingly, a D.C. United rep had no comment on the report, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's true. United still has its designated-player slot open and the team's new ownership would love to make a splash, as well as help its MLS Cup-contending team's shaky defense.

There's been a lot of speculation that D.C. might use its DP slot on a high-profile Argentine player such as Boca Juniors icon Martín Palermo. Verón certainly fits that mold, and his defensive skills in the midfield would help the team far more than another attacker would -- although I'd be shocked if the figure is correct. At 32, Verón may be the same age as Beckham, but his role requires far more physical play, and it's questionable how much "The Little Wizard" has left in the tank.

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