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Galaxy’s stars present problems for Revolution

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 28, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH — This is the biggest day in the European soccer season in terms of global exposure. In fact, today’s Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United is expected to attract a television audience measured in the hundreds of millions. And Major League Soccer’s most visible player, David Beckham, will be among those viewers.

“It will be a great game, the two best teams in the world, two of the most historical clubs in the world,’’ Beckham said yesterday. “Great individuals who can change the game. So, it’s going to be a great spectacle. There’s one team I’ll be cheering for — Man U.’’

After that match, Beckham will change focus to his current team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, who meet the Revolution tonight at Gillette Stadium.

“We played them earlier in the season,’’ Beckham said of a 1-1 tie at the Home Depot Center in March. “We’re ready for the game.’’

Beckham has often seemed to be distracted from his Galaxy obligations, and this week has been an example. On Tuesday, Manchester United staged a farewell match for Gary Neville; Beckham participated, skipping the Galaxy’s game against Houston.

“That was something that was very important to him on a personal level,’’ said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. “We let players go for family matters throughout the year. Everyone wants to make it public, but we’ve had other issues like that on our team this year and in the past where we excused players.’’

The Galaxy, it turned out, were fine without Beckham, taking a 1-0 win over Houston on a Landon Donovan penalty kick. And Arena has welcomed back Beckham.

“Since I’ve been with the Galaxy, this is his first full year,’’ Arena said. “I actually see he’s more comfortable on and off the field. He’s enjoying the guys, he’s one of the guys.’’

Beckham made his reputation with deadly crosses and free kicks as a right winger, and that is where he performed for Manchester United in the game against Juventus this week. But Arena has moved Beckham to a central midfield role. No longer does Beckham have to chase younger opponents up and down the wing, but he does have to execute as a playmaker and defender.

“I giggle when I see people say he’s not a very good player,’’ Arena said. “He’s playing now where he’s best-suited at this point in his career.’’

Beckham and Donovan will attract most of the attention from Revolution defenders.

“They have world-class guys so we’ve clearly got to keep an eye on them,’’ said Revolution coach Steve Nicol. “At the same time, the better we play, the less chance they’ll have to go at us. We really have to look after ourselves. Clearly, when the ball is turned over, or they have it, we have to be buttoned up and secure and we have to make good decisions. Landon, the one thing he’ll hurt you with is running at you, and when he gets a gallop up running with the ball he’s hard to deal with. When he gets it we have to make sure to stop him.’’

But Donovan’s role is also changing. Arena has dropped him into more of a playmaking position.

“He’s changing from a speedy guy running behind the defense,’’ Arena said.

Beckham (Manchester United) and Nicol (Liverpool) are among the few MLSers who have won the Champions title in Europe.

“If there’s a guy who can pick a pass, he’s the guy,’’ said Nicol. “The less time he spends on the ball the better for us.’’

Because of weather-related problems in the Midwest, Revolution coaches and players returned from Wednesday’s US Open Cup game in Kansas City on eight separate flights. Some players did not return until early yesterday morning. Sporting Kansas City defeated the Revolution, 5-0, in the play-in match.

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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