It's not hard for anyone on this side of the Atlantic Ocean to dislike David Beckham, even those who support his part-time club, the LA Galaxy. He's only somewhat committed to the club, he's aging and he's hardly been the ideal teammate since he arrive in Los Angeles. That's not to say that he hasn't improved in some of those areas since joining the club because by all accounts he has, but he has his issues and Galaxy fans know it. That said, he is as absolutely vital to the Galaxy's chances of winning MLS Cup and probably more important than most realize.
The star power, jersey sales and squealing teenage girls are all well and good. As much as the fans who were rattling around the Round Bowl a decade ago may hate the camera flashes when Beckham goes to take a corner kick, he's done the club good. He can also do the club more good. Step one is getting healthy (actually healthy, not cortisone shots so he can go 25 minutes healthy). Step two is fitting back in the team. Step three is winning a MLS Cup because the Galaxy have yet to do this with the Golden Balls.
It's no secret to anyone that this Galaxy team is good. They have been for the past two seasons and are sitting atop MLS this year. Omar Gonzalez is the anchor at the back, Todd Dunivant is having a remarkably good season for someone who just turned 30, Landon Donovan is the linchpin of the attack and Juninho is getting better by the week. That right there is the makings of a good team. That there it is not the makings of a team that can win MLS Cup though.
Simply put, the Galaxy are short on options going forward. They were short on options last season when they had Edson Buddle. Now he is gone and the forward pairing is an aging, underwhelming Juan Pablo Angel and Chad Barrett, who would win the "Good Hustle Award" if MLS were AYSO.
They're also forced to start either Mike Magee or Chris Birchall in the midfield, which they did last year and it hurt them. Good teams can overwhelm them in the midfield. The Red Bulls did it to them at the Home Depot Center in September and it led to their elimination by FC Dallas in the Western Conference Finals. if Juninho isn't playing incredibly then the Galaxy are in trouble in the midfield and while good, Juninho isn't the type of player you put your season on.
So how does the Galaxy counter their weaknesses up top and in the midfield? David Beckham. The Galaxy forwards are going to struggle to score, making it essential that they take advantage of the chances they do get. The best of those chances is on set pieces, something that Beckham is obviously sensational at.
Beckham also helps take the pressure off of a back line that can be exposed when teams can run at them. The Galaxy back line is organized and thanks to Gonzalez, handle long balls and crosses rather well. Players with foot speed running at them? That's a problem. The best way to counter that is to hold the ball since the midfield is short on foot speed. Take Beckham out of the midfield and the Galaxy have Donovan and Juninho to hold the ball. That's it. Donovan is also best used further up the pitch so he's not a big part of the possession game. Beckham needs to play with Juninho and be at the center of the midfield's attempts to hold the ball if they are to keep opposing teams' midfields from being able to run at their defense regularly.
Most importantly, Beckham creates space for the Galaxy. There isn't much pace in the Galaxy lineup and when they are the ball, teams can close them down easily and make them play in small spaces. They don't create a lot of width and they don't stretch defenses deep. They just can't without a lot of pace. Beckham helps mitigate that with his passing threat though. With Beckham on the ball, teams can't afford to play a high line because Beckham will find space behind them. That often forces opposing defenses to lose shape and creates space in the midfield for the likes of Donovam to come inside and find space.
When Beckham came into the match on Monday against the Sounders he opened up the Galaxy attack. He was clearly still hurting from his back spasms and not nearly as mobile as he'd have liked, but he still changed the match. The Sounders' back line dropped deeper, the Galaxy spent more time on the ball and chances came.
Nobody is going to look back on Beckham's first four years with the Galaxy with complete fondness. He's made his mistakes and a lot of issues have come up. Issues or not, Beckham is still with the team and it's a team that has its deficiencies. Luckily for LA, Beckham can help cover up those deficiencies so no matter one's feelings on the man, the simple fact is that he is absolutely vital to the Galaxy's chances of winning MLS Cup.