- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. | David Beckham returned to MLS with a whisper, not a shout.

Playing in a stadium nearly three-quarters empty, the star midfielder was slow and had little role in the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Thursday night.

“The most important thing is for us to get three points, and tonight we did that in style,” Beckham said.

In his first match since the Italian League’s season finale May 31, Beckham was often behind the play and seemed winded. He had no free-kick chances near the goal, didn’t make any crosses that created threats and didn’t even take all the Galaxy corner kicks while he was in the match.

Fans scurried down the aisles to get better pictures when he did take corner kicks, but he was booed at times.

“A few tonight, but it’s to be expected,” he said. “It’s sometimes nice to get the boos. It gives you some inspiration.”

Los Angeles drew 66,237 for its 5-4 win at the Red Bulls two years ago, the largest soccer crowd at Giants Stadium for a U.S. league game in 27 years. Attendance dropped to 46,754 for last year’s 2-2 tie and fell by 50 percent to 23,238 Thursday. Eleven of 36 sections in lower deck were covered with navy tarp, and there were only a handful of people in the second deck and none at all in the third.

“Obviously the first year was impressive,” Beckham said. “We’re in a recession, so, you know, maybe that’s part of it.”

Alecko Eskandarian scored on a left-footed volley that beat goalkeeper Danny Cepero from about 28 yards in the third minute, Landon Donovan on a right-footed shot from about the same distance in the 31st and Eddie Lewis from 15 yards in the 45th.

Los Angeles (6-3-9) has won four straight MLS games for the first time since September-October 2007 and is fighting for a playoff berth. The Galaxy had not won at New York since 2000.

“I became a better coach with the addition of David Beckham,” the Galaxy’s Bruce Arena said.

Juan Pablo Angel had an 87th-minute penalty kick and failed to convert one in the 90th minute for the Red Bulls (2-14-4), who would be a lock for relegation if the MLS had relegation. They dropped to 0-9-2 in the league and 0-10-2 overall since beating San Jose on May 8.

Coach Juan Carlos Osorio apologized for his team’s performance.

“I feel sorry, and I want to apologize to the fans,” he said.

Beckham appeared to go out of his way to be friendly with Donovan, who in a book out this week criticized his teammate as unprofessional for supposedly quitting on the Galaxy in the late stages of a disappointing 2008 season.

Beckham and Donovan, who regained his captain’s job from the Englishman, shook hands and embraced ahead of the opening whistle. Beckham draped his arm around Donovan after the American scored, and the two hugged after Donovan assisted on the third goal.

“There was never a doubt in our minds that these guys would work together,” Arena said. “It was certainly a great moment with all the buildup of the so-called questionable relationship.”

Donovan had come to New York on a red-eye after attending the ESPY awards in Los Angeles.

“It’s not often that soccer is on the front of people’s minds in this country, and right now it seems to be,” Donovan said. “Not necessarily for the right reasons the last couple of weeks, but people are talking about it, and that’s good.”

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