LA 1-1 Red Bull: A Call for Group Therapy

If you care at all, you know that LA and Red Bull tied 1-1 last night – even if, at time of writing,’s headline reads “Galaxy win again, keep hopes alive.” But, I ask that you bear with me through a digression – which relates to that game – to get at something about that draw.

Back in high school, we had this program called Natural Helpers. Comprised of students, Natural Helpers were meant to provide peer counseling, a kind of sympathetic ear that troubled students would be more willing to talk into as they sorted out teenage doubts and frustrations. Their fellow students volunteered people for the program, presumably due to their talent for listening or capacity for sage advice.

No one ever volunteered me for Natural Helpers (vague misanthropy fits poorly with the program), but one of my sisters made it in, allowing her to tell me a bit about the group – and, more specifically, about orientation. Everyone knew about the retreat, which involved a chaperoned weekend in the woods for all the new recruits. Everyone also knew what went on over that weekend: the kids got drunk, smoked acres of weed, shed tears over the tyranny of parents/social institutions and the cruelty of kids at school, and, after drying the tears, vigorous, healing sex ensued.

At least that’s what happened at my high school…I still regret that negative creep vibe.

But, if 60 Minutes (or maybe 20/20) is to be believed, the Natural Helpers program at my school might have been an aberration. A report I saw some years back portrayed a very different, deeply earnest program. Students in this version of Natural Helpers attended workshops on peer pressure and conducted trust exercises – all while sober. One workshop in particular got to the students: one where they had to walk a circle of their friends/fellow-Helpers, look them in the eye, and say “NO!” to them. They would all collapse into sobs by the third, or even second, friend. Very emotional stuff.

I think the Galaxy would benefit from a similar workshop now that David Beckham has returned to the team. The moment Beckham entered last night’s game the Galaxy’s play grew distracted. It seemed the team as a whole unconsciously inserted an extra step into the process of taking care of the game’s primary business – e.g. scoring the winning goal. That step was getting the ball to Beckham. Though nowhere in the rules of the game does it say this player or that has to touch the ball, the Galaxy appeared hell-bent on getting the ball to their hobbled star.

And that’s where the workshop exercise comes into play. Each player on the Galaxy squad could walk up to Beckham and say in turn, “It is not necessary for me to pass you the ball.” On the evidence of last night’s game, this would prove particularly difficult for Josh “Monchichi” Tudela. Though, sensitive soul that he is, I could see Landon Donovan struggling as well.

“Playing through” a team’s better players makes plenty of sense as a general principle – there’s a reason “they need to get ____ the ball” is a broadcasting cliché – but on a practical level that always needs to come second to playing a smart game, finding the open players and exploiting opportunities when they come regardless of what the guy on the other end earns per annum. I’d argue the Galaxy kept focus on finding that winner – after Gavin Glinton came on for Kyle Martino and Edson Buddle came on for Carlos Pavon – but they then tripped on that extra step once Beckham came on the field. It makes one think they’re still in awe of him…Lord only knows what Beckham could talk his teammates into had they attended my high school’s Natural Helpers retreat…whatever he came up with, I’m pretty sure it would be illegal.

At the same time, Beckham’s entry into the game DID seem to unsettle Red Bull; then again, the general weight on the substitutions may account for that. But even when the Galaxy pinned back New York, the best shot I recall came with Pete Vagenas’ near-post bullet that Jon Conway slapped aside…and, for that, I thank him, in spite of a first half so addled he nearly handed the Galaxy the game.

The teams by and large traded blows up to that point, but I’d credit New York – and Juan Pablo Angel, in particular – with finding the better chances. Had Angel been half as sharp as he was against KC the week before, New York could have driven that vital stake through LA’s hearts. The comparison goes beyond the two goals the Colombian scored; in last night’s game, Angel never replicated a shot as clean or powerful as that bullet header he sent on Kevin Hartman’s goal the week before. Other noteworthy contributions aside – Dane Richards, Jozy Altidore, and, in the first half, Dave van den Bergh – Joe Vide’s blundering give-aways, Jeff Parke’s nerves, and the lumbering amble of John Wolyniec scuttled the Red Bull’s shot at ending their season on a high.

In a deeper sense, though, no harm done to New York; it’s next stop, playoffs for them regardless. I still don’t know that we’ll see LA in there. In or out, however, they better sort out what’s more important to them: getting Beckham the ball or getting the ball in the goal.

Other notes:

– Too bad Red Bull didn’t pick up that PK when Cannon fouled Richards. Along with the ESPN team, I thought it was legit.

– I’m still trying to figure Yallop’s personnel decisions. Why leave in Tudela with Beckham instead of Vagenas?

– How ‘bout that spat between Eric Wynalda and Tommy Smyth about whether Beckham should start. Those two share a nice reality-TV vibe. For the record, though, I think Wynalda’s right, at least till Beckham is 100%. They had another one in there as well, right before Allen Hopkin’s sideline chat with MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

– One more uncomfortable moment to flag: the pre-game chat between MLS Garber and Beckham; Beckham seemed irked by the apparent photo-op.

– Whoops….forgot to insert the requisite commentary on Beckham; thanks to Andrea Canales for reminding me.   In spite of looking a little off, Beckham still benefits from a better “soccer-brain”: he plays the ball quickly and decisively, something frustrating missing from too many Yanquis’ games; the accuracy will likely improve with his match fitness.  LA fans should also take heart from that hard tackle he laid on some random Red Bull shortly after coming on; it spoke to his eagerness to get on the field and confidence that the worst of his injuries are behind him.


6 Responses

  1. Funny theory, Dylan. I watched the match plenty closely. We just saw different things…it happens.

  2. Hmmm…why’d my comment go over Dylan’s…let’s see what happens…now.

  3. Like the mlsnet headline you refer to, I think you wrote all this nonsense before Beckham was subbed on. For me, I felt it was the first time the Galaxy didn’t try to force the ball to Beckham and he was not the explicit center of attention for the squad, unlike his previous outings. With the added pressure to the wings, I even suspected Yallop put him in just to distract NYRB. Of course, you didn’t watch the match that closely, focused as you were on writing about Beckham.

  4. […] Rich Joseph; Milosevic(?!); King Diablo + Thoughts on the Final Weekend – Having already rambled at length on David Beckham’s black-hole-esque capacity for distorting LA’s play, adding even a […]

  5. I also thought there was less of an urgency to get the ball to Beckham than I’d seen in the past matches. Did Beckham call for the ball though? (Not that it matters if the guys think they have to send it through him). My impressions of Beckham’s appearance are more that his ankle is still f*cked which certainly distracted him, and put more of a dent in his form than just the layoff would have. He probably shouldn’t be back yet just for health reasons.

  6. Deal…we’ll all keep our eyes peeled and consult again later…

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