Beckham-mania lives up to exciting billing

By Chris Kamrani

As “Beckham-mania” rolled into Utah over the weekend, people were awaiting a high-scoring, high-energy match from Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy.

The 25,500 that showed up to Rice-Eccles Stadium were not disappointed in the match that resulted in 2-2 tie between international soccer star David Beckham’s Galaxy and RSL.

Real Salt Lake started the match with a high intensity feel and pressured offensively, which resulted in two goals inside the opening 20 minutes.

Argentineans Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola hooked up for the first goal of the game at the six-minute mark. Morales played a field-switching cross to a streaking Espindola, who trapped it and delivered the first blow past Galaxy keeper Steve Cronin.

Morales, who is often at the heed of most RSL attacks was not done contributing.

In the 18th minute, Morales whipped a curling cross toward the back post where Scottish forward Kenny Deuchar had a height advantage defender Greg Vanney. Deuchar leaped and subsequently slammed a signature header toward the upper-90.

“I thought the goal was offside actually,” said Deuchar. “It’s a great ball into the back post and hey, that’s what we’ve been looking for.”

A 2-0 lead on one of the worst defensive teams in the league was exactly what RSL was looking for.

Then Beckham showed up in a big way.

Beckham single-handedly resurrected his team from the two-goal deficit, with two wonder strikes of his own. Beckham’s goals were four minutes apart, coming in the 36th minute and 40th minute respectively.

The first came as RSL rookie Tony Beltran-who was making first-career MLS start- casually passed the ball out of the box, rather than clearing it.

The ball landed at the foot of Beckham outside the box on the right corner. With loads of space and time, the superstar calmly cocked back and released a whipping, dipping shot toward the far post and past a helpless and surprised Nick Rimando.

“The (ball) happened to go to David Beckham, who put it away-pretty nicely,” said RSL head coach Jason Kreis.

The former English national team star’s second goal came as scripted as it could come. As RSL midfielder Dema Kovalenko was whistled for a high-kick about 30-yards out, those familiar with Beckham’s free ball capabilities sensed what followed.

Beckham approached the ball, which was nearly dead-center with the RSL goal, and did what he does best. Beckham curled the ball over the RSL wall, leaving Rimando helpless as the pace and placement was too much to challenge.

“I’m a little kid every time a free kick is given,” said Beckham. “The excitement comes into myself.”

As the Galaxy showed the amount of firepower their offensive arsenal contained, RSL found themselves suddenly on the wrong end of a 2-2 tie with about five minutes left in the half.

“I stayed out quite a few afternoons after training working on not just my free kicks but my passing,” Beckham said. “I knew that if you want to get better at something or you want to make something that wasn’t right the week before, right the week after, I’ve got to work on it.”

In the 42nd minute, midfielder Kyle Beckerman received the ball on the edge of the box one-on-one with Beckham. After a few step-overs, Beckerman got past Beckham and sent a low, left-footed cross toward the goal that landed on the foot of Deuchar, who powerfully placed it into the back of the net. As the RSL faithful was in full jubilation, the effort was all for naught as Deuchar was ruled offside by the side official.

“Obviously, when Kyle’s going for the shot, I’m just trying to make the goals bigger,” said Deuchar, “But at the same time, staying onside.”

As happens in soccer so many times, it truly was a tale of two halves.

As the second-half commenced, both defenses were tighter, and the aggressiveness became quite evident.

MLS and U.S. National team superstar Landon Donovan was tightly marked all night by the RSL back four, and was basically a non-factor until late in the match.

In the 51st minute, defender Jamison Olave misplayed a pass that landed at the feet of Donovan. The national team star centered the ball into the RSL box, but Rimando deflected it only to give an unmarked Beckham a chance at a rebound. Fellow defender Nat Borchers quickly reacted by sliding toward Beckham, while clearing the ball and leaving the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star dazed.

“Every one of (RSL’s) players contributed tonight,” Beckham said. “They’ve got a good team, and got good togetherness.”

LA’s opportunity to put the game away came in the 73rd minute when a free kick was taken by Beckham, who curled a pinpoint cross to an unmarked Donovan at the back post. Donovan had time to cock back and release a fast header, but Rimando made an acrobatic, diving one-handed save.

Kreis’ second-half subs were all for a late goal and a win. Bringing on forward Robbie Findley for the defender Beltran, showed that Kreis wanted the victory.

“When we are at home, we are going to go for wins,” Kreis said. “When we are away we are going to go for wins.”

As both sides nitpicked at one another’s defenses, nothing came about of attacks, and the match was called at a 2-2 draw.

“We’ve got to be more ruthless,” Deuchar said. “When we’ve got teams with their backs against the wall, we’ve got to go for the jugular and finish them off and we let them back in it, especially with players-the quality like Sir David Beckham.”

Game Notes: With the 25,500 in attendance, it was RSL’s third-highest in team history and the largest for a regular season game (not including doubleheaders). Galaxy forward Edson Buddle left the match in the 12th minute after a hamstring strain. Argentinean midfielder Matias Cordoba got his first official league cap, coming on as a sub in the 90th minute. RSL and the Galaxy each had seven shots on goal.

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Lennie Mahler

L.A. Galaxy midfielder Chris Klein tries to pass as RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman deflects the ball in the 2-2 tie at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night.

Lennie Mahler

L.A. Galaxy midfielder David Beckham voices his frustration early in Saturday’s 2-2 tie at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Lennie Mahler

L.A. Galaxy midfielder David Beckham kicks the first of his two goals on Saturday, which brought the game to a 2-2 tie after the Galaxy trailed by two goals early on.