As homecomings go, David Beckham’s return to Carson on Sunday to join the Galaxy for an exhibition game against AC Milan was the exact opposite of the Manny Ramirez lovefest that broke out at Dodger Stadium last week.
It started out nasty and took a turn toward ugly as the teams left the field at halftime of what would become a 2-2 tie against the team Beckham played for last season and hopes to play for again next season.
Incensed at remarks hurled at him by fans sitting in a corner of the Home Depot Center, Beckham approached them to urge them to calm down. One hurdled the barrier separating the stands from the end zone and was escorted away by security officers.
“One of them jumps over to shake my hand,” he said, “but maybe not.”
“They were saying things that really weren’t very nice,” Beckham said. “There’s always going to be a certain reaction. The majority of fans here wanted to watch the game and the great players and I think they enjoyed themselves.”
Beckham got some payback in the 64th minute, when he took a corner kick in front of his most virulent critics in the so-called “Riot Squad” and watched as teammate Bryan Jordan headed the ball home. He turned to the fans to share his glee, even if they wanted no part of it.
“I’m not disappointed because it doesn’t affect me,” he said of the boos. “At the end of the day you can’t be liked by everybody.”
Beckham was taken out in the 75th minute after a strong performance. He finally tipped the jeers/cheers meter in his favor, but he will be a polarizing figure as long as he’s here, an obligation that lasts at least through the MLS season.
This was supposed to be a friendly game, but the fans’ venom toward Beckham became the overriding story. Landon Donovan, restored to the captaincy he was forced to relinquish to Beckham in 2007, said he expected the story to change.
“If he keeps playing like that, I’m sure people are going to be behind him,” Donovan said.
And maybe not entirely.
Not to justify the actions of morons who cross the line to insulting players’ families and other obscenities, it’s clear you can’t fool the soccer faithful. Fans here know Beckham was so intent on not coming back to the Galaxy that he reportedly paid $3 million to ensure his loan to AC Milan was extended four months past his original March 9 MLS return.
Many Galaxy fans see the multi-tattooed Englishman as an over-the-hill, overpaid superstar who condescends to play once in a while, when he’s not counting the royalties on his jersey sales. They’re not entirely wrong, though injuries limited him to five games in 2007.
On Sunday, they let him know how they felt in no uncertain terms.
Beckham, who had made his MLS season debut Thursday in the Galaxy’s 3-1 win over the Red Bulls at New Jersey, jogged onto the field to a mixture of loud boos and a smattering of cheers. In a sure sign the tide has turned against the man who was supposed to save MLS and American soccer -- neither of which may need him as their savior -- fans unfurled spiteful signs to express their sentiments.
The first was a neatly lettered bedsheet that read:
Here Before You.
Here After You.
Here Despite You.
As the sentiment grew stronger, the penmanship grew sloppier. One sign, difficult to read, had the word EVIL in very legible red letters. Another proclaimed, “Go Home Fraud 23.”
The only surprise is that the security force didn’t immediately confiscate the banners, which fluttered in the breeze for about 15 minutes before they disappeared.
But just like Beckham, the banners popped up again during the introduction of the lineups. This time they were joined by yellow placards with the word “BOOOO” in big, black letters and jeers that sounded louder in the still-filling stadium.
Nothing he did satisfied the anti-Becks contingent.
He was booed every time he touched the ball. Not even his spectacular, 50-yard-plus pass to Eddie Lewis for a scoring chance in the seventh minute could change that tune, though he rightly earned a measure of cheers for his fine run from deep in his end of the field and long pass to Donovan to set up the Galaxy’s first goal, in the 30th minute.
He looked fit and sharp, but it’s tough to draw conclusions from games like this. AC Milan, just starting its season, played only a few regulars, among them the brilliant Ronaldinho and newly named team captain Massimo Ambrosini. The Galaxy is in full flight, making a playoff push, and the man that fans love to hate will play a key role in any journey to the postseason.
“I think we feel that we’ve got the right team now to move forward, not only to make the playoffs but to shoot for something even bigger for this team,” midfielder Chris Klein said. “We’re comfortable with where we are now and we want to continue to move forward.”
And forward they go, though Beckham might need earplugs for the road ahead.