Beasley Burns the Galaxy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Call him the one who got away, the one who should have stayed. That's what Sigi Schmid did Saturday afternoon after DaMarcus Beasley had sliced and diced the Galaxy's defense, scoring twice in a 3-1 Chicago Fire victory in front of a sun-baked crowd of 23,488 at the Rose Bowl.

The kid is for real. He's only 19, but already he is showing the kind of moves that will make him a U.S. national team standout for years to come. The next Cobi Jones? It's quite possible.

At 5 feet 7 and 126 pounds, Beasley is so slight a strong wind could carry him away. Which makes it improbable that Chicago is where he plays.

Then again, he's so fast, so elusive he probably could outrun anything the Windy City could throw his way.

In 1999, at the FIFA Under-17 World Championship in New Zealand, two Americans stole the show. One, Landon Donovan, was the tournament's most valuable player. The other, runner-up for the award, was Beasley.

Earlier this year, Beasley was one of 100 young players worldwide selected by England's World Soccer magazine as stars of the future.

Fire Coach Bob Bradley said the billing is deserved.

"He continues to get better," Bradley said Saturday. "These last few games, the way we've lined up, we were able to give him a little bit more freedom and push him forward more. It was nice to seem him take advantage of that.

"He's a terrific two-way player, so sometimes he gets criticized that he's not playing well [offensively], but in reality he does a lot of little things to help the team win games."

Bradley thought so highly of the youngster from Fort Wayne, Ind., he gave up first-round draft picks in 2000 and 2001 to acquire him from the Galaxy.

At the time, Schmid said it was in Beasley's best interests to be playing nearer home. Second thoughts, however, are inescapable.

"He's a good player," Schmid said. "If I could have held onto him, I would have. We needed a defender at that time. At the end of the day we got [defender Danny] Califf and [forward] Brian Mullan out of the deal. If Mullan had been healthy to play today, that maybe might have made a difference for us."

It's unlikely. The Galaxy, which defeated the Fire, 1-0, in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals Wednesday night, looked like a tired team. Only Jones and defender Adam Frye played well, although Pete Vagenas scored a memorable 20-yard goal in the 78th minute that cut the Fire's lead to 2-1.

But Beasley, who had scored in the 64th minute, tallied another in the 90th, this time chipping a shot over Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman that Vagenas tried to knock down with his chest only to tumble backward into the net with the ball.

Vagenas doesn't hesitate in calling Beasley a phenomenal prospect. "I first met him when he was on my [1999 U.S.] Pan American [Games] team [in Winnipeg, Canada] and I thought he was the most talented player of his age ... that I'd ever seen at that time," Vagenas said.

"With youngsters like that sometimes they get too much pressure put on them, but he and Landon have done well handling the pressure and not ever being satisfied. They're still hungry.

"I think it shows in DaMarcus' game. Technically, he wasn't very good back then. Now, technically he's very good. He couldn't read the game very well. I think he reads the game well now. It's all a matter of progression for this guy. There's nothing that's going to really stop him, other than himself."

Beasley's two goals--the Fire's first was scored by Ante Razov in the fifth minute--were his first of the season.

"He's dangerous, but the results still have to come," Schmid said. "He's a player who is going to mature. He's going to be a national team player. He's going to be a dominant player in this league." What Beasley will be called then is anyone's guess.

Right now, "Jitterbug" is his nickname. But in Los Angeles, he always will be known as the one who got away.

Pity.

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