I went to the match with my family on Saturday. I'll have more to say about the atmosphere and Beckham-mania later, but first, the match.
It was very entertaining. Chelsea, clearly still in pre-season form, played most of their great players (Robben was a notable exception). In the course of the afternoon, Drogba, Lampard, Kalou, Terry, Joe Cole, Sean Wright-Phillips, Essien, Makalele, Shevchenko and Carvahlo saw action, as well as newcomers like Malouda, Ben Haim, and Sidwell. That's some A+ talent. Some of the most expensive footballers in the world. Getting to see these guys in the cozy confines of the Home Depot Center was a thrill in itself.
The Galaxy - dismissed in the English press as little more than a "pub team" after getting spanked 3-0 by Tigres earlier in the week - were inspired. They are not a great team; only Landon Donavan, Abel Xavier and maybe Carlos Pavon could really be considered world class, and none of them could dream of starting for Chelsea. But the supporting cast produced a scrappy performance and managed to keep the explosive Chelsea largely in check.
The first half felt quite even. Both keepers made great saves - Joe Cannon had to fend off hard shots from Wright-Phillips, Malouda and Drogba; Cech was nearly beaten by Kyle Martino's diving header, and had to tip a dangerous Xavier header inches over the crossbar. The Galaxy defense was a mess, but they were lucky and, frankly, Chelsea wasn't all that crisp. Could have been 0-3 Chelsea at the half, but could just as easily have been 1-0 Galaxy.
The Galaxy's luck ran out at the start of the second half, and the poor defending gave Chelsea the chance they needed as Terry scored off a lose ball, just in off the upright. That proved to be the winner. The crowd thought it was 0-2 just 5 minutes later when Shevchenko created some magic on the left side, but was flagged for offside. In the 70th minute, Donavan had a great chance - probably the Galaxy's best of the game - but put his header high over the bar.
The crowd was excellent - lots of Chelsea supporters and lots of old and new Galaxy fans wearing the just-released white and blue colors, which are a huge improvement over the tacky gold and green. The fans were pretty knowledgeable, too. It's a great stadium for LA - lots of social spaces, very intimate. I ran into a bunch of people I know, and had a chance to talk to them, which never happens at a Dodgers game. With a reported 27,000 in attendance, including a bunch of celebs, it was noisy and crowded, but not out of control. More like a Lakers game than an NFL game.
Ok, Beckham. The hype is out of control. I'm sick of Posh, and all the Coming to America bullshit, etc. But his debut in the 78th minute of the match was pure theater. He kicked an errant ball back onto the pitch; the crowd roared. He laced up his boots; the crowd roared. He stretched; the crowd roared. He disappeared into the tunnel (apparently to retape his ankle, and to pee); the crowd groaned. Finally, he stripped off his warm-up jacket and jogged to the sideline, resplendent in his white Galaxy home kit. The crowd went wild. A huge cheer, and flashbulbs, went up every time he touched the ball.
So, what to make of it. I guess I come away largely optimistic about the whole Beckham experiment. Commerce drives sports in America, and great product drives commerce. It's hard to argue with the marketing campaign so far, given the number of shirts I saw on the backs of fans, and the fact that Adidas is claiming the new #23 Galaxy jersey is currently the world's best selling kit. The stadium was packed with enthusiastic fans. It was a very tough ticket.
The product was pretty darn good, too. Let's not forget, amid the Galaxy's woes this season, that Donavan is a great play-maker, that Xavier has defended at the highest levels of the sport, and that Pavon is an athletic New World striker. They've got some work to do on defense, but with Beckham in central midfield, they'll have some sick wing play and counter-attacking. You could feel them feeding off the crowd and playing at a higher level. And they'll have huge crowds on the road, too, cheering for Beckham and, by association, for them. Oh, and TV coverage on ESPN doesn't hurt.
One last thing: this is great for English football, a fact which the yobs in the British press are too thick to appreciate. All these new Beckham fans are going to be England fans, when he returns to do his duty in the Euro 2008 qualifiers. The increase in exposure, fan base, and even merchandise sales for England in America is a huge growth opportunity. I predict American fans will be traveling to Austria and Switzerland in '08, to cheer on the LA boy.