David Beckham's tumultuous week, the summer transfer window opens and more from MLS Week 17:
1. Beckham pushes his luck. The prevailing discussion about Saturday's California Clasico should be centered on the fact that for the second straight week, a pair of rivals went after each other in front of a sellout crowd on national television and put forth a Game-of-the-Year-caliber performance. The takeaway should have been about the San Jose Earthquakes' uncanny ability to battle back from spurts of poor play and deficits of any nature while maintaining pole position in the race for the Supporters' Shield. Instead, all is focused on the play and antics of David Beckham, who hit about every checkpoint on the performance spectrum at Stanford Stadium.
Taking the field just days after the disappointment of being snubbed for Great Britain's Olympic roster, Beckham's free kick to level the score at 1-1 in the first half and get the Galaxy going was textbook, trademark and sublime. His deep-lying distribution and overall hustle over the course of the match were both positive contributors toward the Galaxy's attack, which for a good portion of the 90 minutes was relentless and marked by precise ball movement.
With the Galaxy blowing a two-goal lead to the Earthquakes for the second time in a month, though, and perhaps the Olympic disappointment still lingering, Beckham's emotions bubbled over with the Galaxy chasing the game. Waiting to take a throw-in deep into second-half stoppage time, Beckham was perturbed at San Jose's Sam Cronin biding his time while injured on the ground. He drop-kicked the ball -- with his typical pinpoint accuracy mind you -- at Cronin and referee Hilario Grajeda, picking up a yellow card that rules him out of the Galaxy's next game. His actions after the match were of a man seemingly ready for an altercation with anybody, player or mascot. He sparked a full-on clash of the teams, though cooler heads prevailed before any real punches or handbags were thrown.
If there's one player who has gotten preferential treatment by referees and the league over the last few years, it's Beckham. His tackles from behind tend to be deemed a little less harsh, and his allowance for dissent is considerably larger than anyone else's in MLS. His latest actions, however, have forced the MLS Disciplinary Committee's hand to the point that he should unequivocally face a multi-game suspension.
New York's Rafa Marquez, FC Dallas' Brek Shea and Beckham's teammate Mike Magee have set the precedent in similar instances. Marquez chucked a ball at Landon Donovan after a playoff loss last season, sparking a brawl and earning himself a three-game ban in the process. Shea received a three-game ban for kicking a ball at a referee earlier this season, and Magee got a one-game suspension from the MLS DC for throwing a ball in the area of a referee. With Beckham's actions essentially a combination of the three, and his post-match tirade causing further drama, it will be extremely difficult for the league to turn a blind eye this time.
With those circumstances in mind, let's take a bit of a look ahead. The Galaxy have five games between now and the July 25 MLS All-Star Game, and Beckham is already suspended for Wednesday's match against Philadelphia because of card accumulation. Even though he was passed over for Team GB's Olympic roster in a surprising development, Beckham is still reportedly going to be offered a role in some capacity at the Olympics, whether just at the July 27 opening ceremony or something bigger. Assuming the Galaxy acquiesce and let Beckham, a London Olympics ambassador, take part, and taking into account a potential multi-game suspension between now and then, the club could potentially be looking at a mostly Beckham-less July right after seemingly finding its groove after a shaky start to its title defense.
2. Newcomers get settled. The league's summer transfer window opened last Wednesday, allowing the players who had already signed with MLS clubs take to the field for the first time and for teams to get more aggressive in their respective approaches for a mid-season roster boost.
Houston's Oscar Boniek Garcia made the quickest impact of the new class of players who had already signed, bringing a right-sided counterpart to left winger Brad Davis in the Dynamo's victory over Philadelphia. The Honduran international's activity, field awareness and quality were exactly what the Dynamo were hoping for when making him the second Designated Player in team history, and his debut was an encouraging performance, especially with Houston fans still weary of DP play following the Luis Angel Landin experiment.
Chicago Fire midfielder Alex and Montreal DP striker Marco Di Vaio also got their MLS feet wet, albeit in less-effective manners. Di Vaio's presence for Montreal is all the more important given Bernardo Corradi's season-ending ACL injury and rookie Andrew Wenger's current hamstring strain. Even though his first two performances for the Impact were those of a player who needs more time to be integrated into the squad, the club will need him to accelerate his learning curve to get out of its current mini-slump.
Three other newcomers, Philadelphia's Bakary Soumare, Columbus' Jairo Arrieta and Vancouver's Barry Robson, will be integrated in the coming days and weeks. Soumare, a former Best XI MLS defender, gives the Union potentially one of the top center back tandems in the league once he gains 90-minute fitness and can pair with Carlos Valdes in the back. Columbus continues its search for a quality foreign forward and hopes that Arrieta, a Costa Rican international, is at least part of the answer, while Robson assumes DP status with the Whitecaps and gives Martin Rennie a quality attacking option to station behind his stable of forwards.
With silly season fully underway, other big names are on the way as well. Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, who trained with the Galaxy last week but signed with Brazilian club Botafogo over the weekend, won't be among them, but Italian media is reporting that veteran Italian defender Alessandro Nesta will join countrymen Di Vaio, Corradi and Matteo Ferrari in Montreal. The New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew are also reportedly narrowing down their DP searches. With conference races heating up, rivalries taking center stage, goals being scored at a high rate and big-name signings on the way, it's an exciting time to be an MLS fan.
3. Johnson, Hamid rediscovering top form. Goalkeepers Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid won't be going to London later this month with the United States Under-23 men's national team as they had planned earlier in the year. After both played a role in the U-23s' failure to qualify for the Olympics, both appear to returning to the form that made them Olympic hopefuls in the first place.
Johnson was at the top of his game for the Fire against Sporting Kansas City Friday night, making a handful of reaction saves and displaying his quick instincts and athleticism to keep Sporting KC off the board. It was his second straight top-notch performance, coming on the heels of his heroic play with Chicago down a man for the final 61 minutes against Columbus the previous weekend. With Italian backup Paolo Tornaghi playing so well in Johnson's place during Olympic qualifying, Fire manager Frank Klopas could have buried Johnson, who struggled upon his return, on the bench, but he placed a good deal of patience and trust in Johnson in hope that he would regain his confidence, something that has certainly happened.
Hamid, meanwhile, is quietly regaining his top form with D.C United. Perhaps having the national-team spotlight directed elsewhere is what Hamid needed to get back to the basics. With two clean sheets in his last three matches, Hamid appears to have regained his confidence and command of the box, which was an area where he uncharacteristically struggled during the futile qualifying campaign. D.C.'s relentless attack is getting the attention these days, and rightfully so, but behind that stands a better-than-expected defense and a rejuvenated Hamid.
4. Looming suspensions front and center. MLS is getting to the point of the season where card accumulation will take its toll, and for a number of key central midfielders and forwards, the margin for error is nonexistent.
As noted above, Beckham's foolish kick of the ball at Sam Cronin cost him the Galaxy's mid-week match against the Union. Seattle's engine, Osvaldo Alonso, and Portland Designated Player Diego Chara also picked up their fifth yellows over the weekend, meaning they'll each sit out a game. For Seattle, which just had Alonso serve a two-game suspension and is in the midst of a team-worst win drought, the timing could not be worse. Just ask RSL, which had Kyle Beckerman miss out on the club's loss to Columbus Saturday night when it was trying to snap out of a dip in form.
With one more card, integral central midfielders such as Montreal's Felipe, New York's Dax McCarty, Philadelphia's Gabriel Gomez and Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales will join them on the suspended list (although Gomez can earn a bit of leeway and a good behavior incentive with a card-less performance in his next match).
The card crisis is not limited to central midfielders, either. A number of important forwards are each a game away from spending more time on the sideline. RSL's Alvaro Saborio, San Jose's Alan Gordon, Vancouver's Eric Hassli and Darren Mattocks, and Seattle's Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero are each on the brink, with Montero fresh off serving a red card suspension as well.
With these suspensions coming at a time when multi-game weeks are becoming the norm to make up for lost time over the international break, a handful of managers are finding themselves looking deep down their benches for fill-in solutions. Sure, the MLS Disciplinary Committee has increased the number of games missed by key players this season with retroactive punishments, but players have to be accountable for their actions and will have to be increasingly wiser regarding the challenges they enter and even the goal celebrations they choose in order to avoid hampering their respective clubs.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
Defenders: Robbie Russell (D.C. United), Josh Williams (Columbus Crew), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC)
Midfielders: Chris Pontius (D.C. United), Brian Mullan (Colorado Rapids), Torsten Frings (Toronto FC), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Marvin Chavez Forwards: Danny Koevermans (Toronto FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)