Beckham Extends Tottenham Training Stint, Officially (and Finally) Pisses Us Off

Throughout his injury- and loan-riddled Major League Soccer career, David Beckham has maintained one standard that’s kept us more or less in his corner: Whenever he was able to play, he was exceptionally willing to do so, competing with genuine fire and working extremely hard for his teammates.

We admired that quality and thought it showed a baseline respect for both MLS and his Galaxy teammates. Because of it, we generally gave him a pass on all the stuff that ticked off the majority of MLS fans during the past few seasons.

But now, with yesterday’s news that Golden Balls is going to stay in Norf Lahndan to continue training with Tottenham, instead of returning to LA as planned today to join, you know, his real team in preseason, well, we’re with the legions of MLS fans he’s angered.

Beckham says he’ll rejoin the Galaxy on Feb. 24, just three weeks before their 2011 MLS opener. What message does that send to his teammates, his coaches, and LA fans? We’re not sure exactly, but we know it’s not, You, LA Galaxy, are my No. 1 priority. I am very eager to start working toward winning an MLS title in 2011 and getting to know and cohere with my teammates, some of whom, like the great striker Juan Pablo Angel, are brand new to me. Or something like that. You get the picture.

That’s aggravating enough, but there’s also a sneaky, non-straight-shooting quality to this deal—a quality, by the way, that was present in his first loan stint at AC Milan, which was negotiated on the sly. He started pushing for a proper loan deal to Tottenham right from the start, and when the Galaxy said no,  he kept right on pushing, behind the scenes. (The only thing that prevented it, apparently, was a problem regarding insurance.) Then he left it open-ended about when he would return. Then he said Feb. 9, and now he’s saying Feb. 24.

And today’s news—curiously timed—that Tottenham and LA are planning a “strategic alliance” does little to soften the insult. We doubt Beckham is staying longer to finalize the details of that arrangement.

The Galaxy, in the meantime, played the Portland Timbers in a preseason match yesterday (it ended 1-1). They play San Jose on Sunday and then embark on a 10-day training stint in Arizona. Becks is taking a pass on all of that. And why? Well, the most popular answer is that he wants as much time as possible in front of England coach Fabio Capello’s watchful eye, the better to increase his chances of making England’s Euro 2012 squad.

So look for him to try to sign with Spurs (or another Premier League side) after his MLS contract expires in December. Then he’ll just have to prove that a 37-year-old (by Euro 2012) winger with his effective, but one-dimensional qualities is indispensable to mighty England’s chances at the tournament.

Assuming they qualify, of course.

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Gareth Bale Scores Wonder Goal—While Rory DeLap Provides A Lesson in Ball-Watching

By now you’ve probably seen Tottenham winger Gareth Bale’s astounding second goal against Stoke City in Spurs’ 2-1 win this past Saturday. (He scored the first goal with his face. Literally.)

It’s a spectacular strike and the early leader for goal of the year in the Premier League.

But what TF was Rory Delap doing on the play?

Check out the replay, and keep an eye on Delap, number 24 in red:

Could he be any more lackadaisical in tracking back there?

He’s having a leisurely jog, and he seems to be enjoying Aaron Lennon’s run on the right. Oooh, lookatthat Lennon, good lad. Where was that all that skill in South Africa?

Then he actually steals a glance at Bale on the left, wide open, hand up, calling for the ball! Oh, there’s Bale. Funny-looking geezer, a bit of Frodo in him. Ah but he’ll never get the ball. Would you look at this Lennon…—hang on!

Now he breaks into a halfhearted attempt to mark up Bale and—it’s way too late, as Bale crushes the ball magnificently into the top corner. Bollocks. Missed ‘im.

Fantastic goal, and an object lesson in the dangers of ball-watching.

Maybe Delap needs to take some time away from practicing his long throw-ins to work on basic defending.

Henry Scores in Red Bulls Debut

Here it is—New York midfielder Joel Lindpere skins Tottenham right back Alan Hutton and sets up Thierry Henry for his first goal in a Red Bulls shirt:

(We enjoyed Henry’s “That’s right–I’m  here! I’m here!” post-goal gestures to the crowd.)

Even though it wasn’t quite a sellout last night, the atmosphere was buzzing, and the number of Red Bull “Henry 14” jerseys in the house was surprising and impressive (ditto the Arsenal, Barcelona, and France “Henry” shirts all over the place).

The fans roared when Henry’s face appeared on the Jumbotron before the pregame introductions, again when he was introduced, and again just about every time he touched the ball.

He acknowledged before the game that he’s a week or two away from full fitness, and he was definitely playing in a low gear, but every time he got the ball he was effective and looked full of potential to make something happen.

He nearly opened the scoring just seven minutes in with a great anticipating run in the box, but Spurs keeper Carlo Cudicini stifled his scuffed shot. That would have been an even more storybook debut, but his 25th minute opener will do just fine.

When Henry came off at halftime, Tottenham’s Croatian central midfielder Luka Modric (the checkerboard Croatia shirt was well represented in the house last night) asked to exchange jerseys with him.

Tottenham won the game 2-1, but the Red Bulls outplayed the Champions League entrants—even the Spurs fans sitting behind us acknowledged that. The visitors’ goals came about only by a pair of gaffes from RBNY.

On the first, New York midfielder Tony Tchani skimmed a corner kick with his head just as backup keeper (and Keith Van Horn lookalike) Greg Sutton came out to claim it. The deflection threw Sutton, the ball went through his hands, and Robbie Keane slammed it in at the back post.

The second goal came as a result of a poor header by substitute right back Jeremy Hall. He was trying to head the ball back to Sutton, but didn’t get enough on it, and Tottenham’s Gareth Bale (who we’re pretty sure hails from the Shire) swooped in for an easy finish.

Other than those two mistakes—which, admittedly, were big, and could cost a team an MLS game as easily as an international friendly—the Red Bulls were the better team on the night.

During a long sequence of Red Bull possession in the second half, one of our Tottenham-supporting neighbors said, “These guys know how to keep the ball. I’m surprised. Henry’s got to be happy to see this. If they do this in league games, he’s going to score a lot of goals.”

Another fan who watched on TV told us, “MLS players are better than I thought. As long as the league can survive, the gap between them and the European leagues will continue to shrink.”

We’ve said it all along: if U.S.-based fans of European ball actually watched MLS games, they would, more often than not, see that the level of play is much better than they imagined.

We’re not getting carried away—it was only a friendly against a team in preseason form, and without some of its top players—but the atmosphere and the action last night marked another small step forward for the league and the sport in this country.

Sidenote: Henry took the PATH train to the stadium last night. Gotta love it. We’re pretty sure David Beckham did not take mass transit to his MLS debut back in 2007.