CARSON, CALIF. – Landon Donovan is arguably the best player in Major League Soccer, while David Beckham is inarguably the best-known.
However, neither trained with the Los Angeles Galaxy on Friday as the club finished preparations for its game tonight against Seattle Sounders FC.
Beckham was given a day off to rest after playing with the English national team in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on Wednesday. But he is expected on the pitch at Home Depot Center tonight.
Donovan’s status was less settled after having been diagnosed with swine flu.
“The little understanding I have of this flu is it’s a flu that is very manageable,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “I think the worst part of it is the word ‘swine.’ People tend to panic. I’m told there are other flus that are much more difficult to deal with. ... It’s not infectious – it’s well past that stage – and there’s no issues on our team or anything else. ... Like anybody else who has the flu, depending on how quickly he can turn it around, he might be an option (to play). If it’s how I felt, he’s playing. It’s certainly on how Landon feels and what the doctors tell me.”
Before the Sounders flew to Southern California, coach Sigi Schmid seemed to expect Donovan to give it a go.
“Obviously, he played down in Mexico, and he already had the symptoms there,” he said. “So, I am not anticipating him not playing. I am anticipating him playing.”
Schmid’s reference was to Donovan’s appearance in the USA national team’s 2-1 loss to Mexico on Wednesday in a World Cup qualifying match in Mexico City.
Arena, a former national team coach, thought Donovan was one of the bright spots in what he seemed to consider a lackluster USA effort.
“I thought he was one of the better players,” said Arena, who began his coaching career at the University of Puget Sound. “So if it affected his performance, then he really had a good game. Everyone who played in Mexico City could be accused of having swine flu; but in my opinion that sickness was altitude more than it was the flu.”
Donovan is the men’s team’s all-time leader with 41 goals. Beckham’s 113 international appearances are the most on the current English team.
Beckham missed the earlier meeting with Seattle, a 1-1 draw on May 10, due to his extended stay with AC Milan. Tonight is expected to mark not only his first appearance against the Sounders, but also his regular-season debut in front of Galaxy fans, many of whom resent his apparent preference for the Italian club.
That has caused a bumpy start to Beckham’s third MLS season, after the first two were marred by injury, controversy and lots of losing.
However, Los Angeles has shot past Seattle into second place in the Western Conference, going 5-0-1 in its last six games and 2-0-1 since Beckham’s return.
“Beckham has that ability in one pass to stretch the defense and do it fairly accurately,” Schmid said. “There is probably a lot more confidence and freedom of the wide guys like Donovan and (Eddie) Lewis to do that drop every once in a while. So, that makes them a lot more dangerous than when you have someone there who can’t execute that pass.”
Several Sounders said it’s impossible not to be aware of the world’s most famous soccer player when he’s on the pitch. But they added that their intent is to treat him like anyone else.
“He’s done a lot of great things for the league,” defender Patrick Ianni said. “But when he comes on the field, he is another player. But I’ve seen the tendency to respect him over the top, and I don’t think that does anything good for him or for the league or certainly for your own team. With 10 games left, everything is about the team at this point. There will be no backing down from him or Landon or any other player from here on out.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (7-5-8; 29 pts.) AT LOS ANGELES GALAXY (7-3-10; 31)
8 p.m., Home Depot Center; Carson, Calif.
TV: KONG 6/16. Radio: 97.3-FM, 1210-AM (Spanish).
Head-to-head: The teams played to a 1-1 draw on May 10 at Qwest Field.
Team leaders: For Seattle – G, 9 Fredy Montero; A, 6 Montero/Nate Jaqua; S, 60 Montero; SOG, 21 Montero. For L.A. – G, 9 Landon Donovan; A, 5 Donovan/Mike Magee; S, 38 Alan Gordon; SOG, 18 Donovan.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “You’re looking at Eddie Lewis, (Gregg) Berhalter, (David) Beckham, (Landon) Donovan, people like that, and (Donovan) Ricketts in goal. There is a lot of international experience. … They have got individual players who have been explosive. They are a team, right now, that is confident. And I think that more than anything else, that confidence is what is carrying them through.”
Notes: The Galaxy is in second place in the Western Conference, but Seattle would pass them with a win tonight. … Donovan is questionable due to swine flu. Seattle defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is out due to yellow-card accumulation. … This is the third straight road game in league play for the Sounders, who have lost two in a row and are winless in their last three MLS matches. Seattle hasn’t scored in four straight games. … L.A. has won five and drawn once in its last six games. … This will be Beckham’s first league home game since his return from AC Milan. … Sounders coach Schmid began his pro coaching career with the Galaxy, going 79-53-38 and winning the 2002 MLS Cup. Sounders players who have worn the L.A. colors are Peter Vagenas (2000-2008), Tyrone Marshall (2002-07), Nathan Sturgis (2006-07) and Nate Jaqua (2007). … A new natural-grass pitch was being installed at Home Depot Center on Friday after the previous one was lost to a motocross event.
Next: 7 p.m. Thursday, New England Revolution, Qwest Field, ESPN2.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune