It’s possible that Kobe Bryant was already comfortably seated and watching by the time David Beckham scored the Galaxy’s first goal of the season Thursday night.
Then again, the goal came a mere 7 minutes 58 seconds into the team’s Major League Soccer home opener against the new and not-yet-quite-improved San Jose Earthquakes at the Home Depot Center.
An astute pass from Landon Donovan, a cool side-foot shot into the open net by Beckham for his first MLS goal after goalkeeper Joe Cannon had come out to cut the angle, and there it was.
Bryant, along with his wife and children, were guests in Beckham’s suite, and what the Lakers’ guard saw in what eventually turned out to be a 2-0 Galaxy victory must have registered and might even have impressed.
Bryant is a fan of Barcelona, and while the fare on offer in Carson did not rival in any way the mesmerizing antics of Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry and all the rest of Barca’s star-studded cast, Bryant would have agreed that the sellout crowd of 27,000 got its money’s worth.
The horrors of Saturday, when Los Angeles was routed, 4-0, by the Colorado Rapids in Denver, were banished. The Galaxy this time looked awake and aware.
Awake to the fact that an 0-2 start would have moved several people, including a front office suit or two, a little closer to the exit; aware that not only a victory but an entertaining performance in front of its own fans was imperative.
It wasn’t the “sexy football” that Coach Ruud Gullit had promised when he was hired in November, but it was a considerable improvement on the poor showing the Galaxy produced in Colorado.
Gullit was forced into a couple of changes. The injury to striker Carlos Ruiz and the suspension of defender Abel Xavier made alterations necessary. But Gullit made more than two.
He started Alan Gordon up top in place of Ruiz and alongside Donovan, and also brought Ely Allen, Brandon McDonald, Mike Randolph and Sean Franklin into the starting lineup.
The Galaxy looked livelier right from the opening whistle. The urgency that was entirely missing in Denver was present this time. The willingness to run, to chase the ball, to attack and not simply to watch the game, all of that was there.
As a result, the goals came.
In the 37th minute, the Beckham-Donovan combination clicked again.
Beckham crossed the ball in from the right, placing it perfectly into Donovan’s path. Donovan ignored on-rushing defender Ryan Cochrane and coolly chipped the ball over Cannon and watched it bounce into the unguarded net.
Afterward, Donovan sprinted over to Beckham, who leaped up onto his back and thrust his fist into the air. It was a photo opportunity for the season, perhaps -- L.A. soccer’s two most charismatic stars in a joyous moment.
Bryant, watching from high above, would have enjoyed it. It was Kobe-Shaq in the good old days.
“One, two, we want three,” chanted the Galaxy fans.
The second half was conspicuously un-noteworthy.
The difference between Saturday and Thursday was more than just five days. It was summed up in a single word.
“Attitude,” said Donovan.
“Attitude,” said Cobi Jones, the star player-turned-assistant coach. “I think our attitude coming out was much different than in the Colorado match. The players came out more determined.”
Donovan said Gullit had not ripped into the team after Saturday’s debacle and in fact had not said anything at all.
“We were just more organized tonight,” he said. “Saturday we were all over the place. We did a lot of talking, a lot of work on the field” in training.
Asked about the highlight-reel moment after his goal when Beckham climbed all over him, Donovan simply grinned.
“Maybe I’ll get a new contract, huh?” he said.
San Jose Coach Frank Yallop was not surprised at the result nor was he overly perturbed. His team was playing its first match and it did look a bit more cohesive as the game wore on.
“They had a game plan that worked for them a little bit,” Yallop said. “We kind of let them do their thing, and when you’re 2-0 down in any game, no matter how you play you can’t get back in the match.”