Galaxy move takes Beckham to a different footballing universe

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The Independent Online

Crank up the Beach Boys baby, as Randy Newman crooned in his masterful mock homage to the city of angels, I Love LA. David Beckham is coming.

Even now, British TV crews are being dispatched to film reports against backdrops of the Hollywood Hills, Sunset Boulevard or Laurel Canyon. Beckham, however, should brace himself for a culture shock, professionally as well as personally, when he forsakes the galacticos of Real Madrid for the Galaxy in Los Angeles.

For the former England captain will be exchanging the rarified atmosphere of the Champions' League for tussles with Real Salt Lake, Kansas City Wizards and Columbus Crew. And the thrill of performing in the Bernabeu Stadium will be replaced by afternoons playing at the Home Depot Center.

Beckham, who is following the trail blazed by George Best from Old Trafford to southern California, knows all about the home of the Galaxy, some 13 miles south of downtown LA in Carson (which brands itself "A vibrant city with a small-town atmosphere"). The "Depot" (pronounced dee-po) is where he established the David Beckham Academy for Youth to nurture the talent of eight-to-15 year olds.

How much he knows about those who will soon replace Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy as his colleagues is a different matter. The best-known figure in the Galaxy set-up is Alexi Lalas, the president and general manager. He boasted a ponytail long before Mr Posh Spice, not to mention a spectacular goatee, and hastened the end of Graham Taylor's career as England manager by scoring in a 2-0 win for the US over England in 1993. He remains the only American to have played in Italy's Serie A, with Padova.

Lalas, you sense, might prove something of a soul-mate for Beckham. As a guitarist with his own band, The Gypsies, he released three albums, Woodland, Jet Lag and Ginger, which, if nothing else, should remind Victoria of old friends. Newman's 1970s song found him "rollin' down the Imperial Highway with a big nasty redhead at my side" and, as a rugged central defender, Lalas certainly fitted the description.

Beckham's coach will be Frank Yallop, who played 400 matches for Ipswich during a career that ended just as his new signing's was taking on notoriety at the 1998 World Cup. Yallop has already won two MLS titles, with the San Jose Earthquakes (who are now, in the way of American sport, the Houston Dynamo) and gained international experience in two years as manager of Canada.

The dreadlocked Cobi Jones is another who should be familiar, as well as providing inspiration for Beckham's ever-changing hair- style. Jones had an unsuccessful spell with Coventry City and holds the record for US caps with 164. Landon Donovan will be no stranger either, having played in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen, while Cornell Glen was in the Trinidad & Tobago squad that took England to the wire in last summer's World Cup.

But when the "global sports icon" (as the MLS commissioner Don Garber hailed him yesterday) arrives in Major League Soccer, midway through the 2007 season, he will also have to acquaint himself with lesser-known team-mates such as Chris Albright, Quavas Kirk, Tyrone Marshall, Josh Hansen and Nate Jacqua. They are the nucleus of the team which finished second bottom in the Western Division last year, winning 11, losing 15 and "tie-ing" six of their 32 matches.

The Galaxy share their state-of-the-art, 27,000-seat stadium, which is situated on a university campus, with Club Deportivo Chivas USA. Chivas, who have targeted LA's Mexican community, have the slogan Adios Soccer, El Futbol Esta Aqui! ("Goodbye soccer, football's here!"). Beckham, steeped in the rivalries of Manchester and Madrid, should relish the only MLS derby, even though it carries the cringe-worthy sponsored title of the Honda SuperClassico.

Until 2002, the Galaxy's gold shirts with a green sash could be seen in Pasadena. During the inaugural MLS campaign of 1994, the year when the World Cup came to the land of the so-called World Series, they attracted an average attendance of more than 30,000. Last year the figure was under 21,000, which included members of two semi-official supporters' groups, the Galaxians and the LA Riot Squad, and a mascot called Cozmo kitted out as a frog-like extra-terrestrial.

Beckham, then, has much work to do in raising the profile of his club and the sport. LA has been home to famous soccer players before, yet they were invariably further past their peak. Three decades ago, when George Best played for the Aztecs in the Pele-driven North American Soccer League, there were often 100,000 empty seats for their games in the Rose Bowl. Whatever the outcome of Beckham's adventure, the modest scale of the Home Depot Center will guarantee he is spared that indignity.

Stellar performers of MLS? Facts and figures of Football America

The LA Galaxy

History: One of the 10 original members of Major League Soccer, founded on 15 June 1994.

Trophies: Five since the formation of the MLS: the MLS Cup in 2002 and 2005, the US Open Cup in 2001 and 2005 and CONCACAF Champions' Cup in 2000.

Owners: Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), one of the leading sports and entertainment presenters in the world who also control, among others, NHL ice hockey team Los Angeles Kings, and fellow MLS teams Chicago Fire, DC United and Houston Dynamo. AEG also own half of Swedish football club Hammarby.

Major League Soccer

2007 season: Will run from April 2007 to a championship match on 18 November 2007.

Structure: 13 teams split into two conferences: Western Conference (Six teams) and Eastern Conference (Seven teams). Each team plays 30 games; then the top two teams in each conference plus the next four teams qualifying for the play-offs.

Top dollar: Highest US earners

NBA (Basketball)

1. Kevin Garnett; Minnesota Timberwolves $21m [£10.8m];

2. Chris Webber; Philadelphia 76ers $20.7m;

3. Shaquille O'Neal; Miami Heat $20m

MLB (Baseball)

1. Alex Rodriguez; New York Yankees $21.6m;

2. Derek Jeter; New York Yankees $20.6m;

3. Jason Giambi; New York Yankees $20.4m

NFL (American football)

1. Michael Vick; Atlanta $23.1m;

2. Matt Hasselbeck; Seattle $19m;

3. Orlando Pace; St Louis Rams $18m

NHL (Ice Hockey)

1. Jaromir Jagr; New York Rangers $8.3m;

2. Nicklas Lidstrom; Detroit Red Wings $7.6m;

3. Keith Tkachuk; St Louis Blues $7.6m

Top 10 earners in MLS

1. Juan Francisco Palencia; Chivas USA $1.36m;

2. Landon Donovan; LA Galaxy $900,000;

3. Eddie Johnson; Kansas City Wizards $875,000;

4. Juan Pablo Garcia; Chivas USA $624,260;

5. Freddy Adu; DC United $550,000;

6. Josh Wolff; Kansas City Wizards $420,357;

7. Clint Mathis; Colorado Rapids $410,000;

8. Eddie Pope; Real Salt Lake $394,688;

9. Tony Sanneh; Chicago Fire $365,000;

10. Carlos Ruiz; Dallas Burn $360,000

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