7/24/08

Beckham set to shine in his first MLS all-star game

globeandmail.com
Since joining the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer during last season, David Beckham has missed two chances to play at BMO Field.

Last Aug. 5, the celebrity midfielder watched a goalless draw against Toronto FC from the bench, dressed nattily in a suit and tie, unable to play because of an ankle injury that hampered him for some time.

And on May 31, he was playing for England in a couple of exhibition matches, and without him, the Galaxy lost 2-0 to Toronto.

But tonight, he will step onto the FieldTurf pitch at BMO Field as a member of the MLS all-star team that will play West Ham United of the English Premier League.

It is Beckham's first all-star game since joining MLS and he said yesterday he already has seen change in the league.

"I think there are a couple of new stadiums going up, attendance has been up and the level of play has gone up from what I've seen," he said yesterday at a media conference at BMO Field after the all-stars trained.

His half-season in MLS last year was frustrating because of the injury that he brought with him from his final game with Real Madrid of Spain's La Liga. He was limited to five regular-season MLS games.

"This year, I've been able to train every day and play in every game," he said. "That has helped me understand the league a lot better."

Beckham said that MLS is a "higher level than everyone thinks."

"I realized that when I came here," he said. "I had a lot of time especially last season to just sit and watch the games and especially this year the level of play has gone up.

"Every league's different in the world. The Premiership they like to play fast and furious. La Liga is similar as well and very technical. So every league is different and this is an entertaining league."

This is the fourth MLS all-star game since the league abandoned the east-west format in favour of having the all-stars play a high-profile team. The MLS team is unbeaten under the new format, having defeated Fulham 4-1 in 2005, Chelsea 1-0 in 2006 and Celtic 2-0 in 2007.

"We're taking it seriously," Beckham said.

Beckham had some criticism for artificial pitches last year after his trip to Toronto.

The question came up again yesterday. "I think it's a good field here," he said. "It's something that you don't play on week in and week out, but it's flat and the ball rolls well on it."

"Obviously, we don't play on it a lot," West Ham's manager Alan Curbishley said. "We train on it every now and then when the weather is severe back at home, but it's obviously a surface we're not used to.

"But we spoke about that and we're not going to use that as any excuse. We understand that quite a few of the players who are going to play [tonight] don't play on FieldTurf. Their clubs have got grass. It's something we knew when we took the game on."

London-born Beckham said he will enjoy playing against the London-based Hammers. Beckham grew up as a fan of Manchester United, the team he played with, but many of his friends cheered for West Ham.

"It's great, being an east-end boy playing against West Ham so many times for Manchester United and also scoring against West Ham, which didn't go down well with a few friends," he said. "It's always nice to play against a quality team."

Two Canadians of the three Canadian players on the all-stars, midfielder Dwayne De Rosario and goalkeeper Pat Onstad, will not arrive in Toronto until this morning. Toronto FC's Jim Brennan is the other.

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