From early childhood, we learn that appearances can be deceiving and to never judge a book by its cover. What your lying eyes tell you may not, in fact, be the widely accepted reality of any situation. While there are probably countless better examples to which one can point, the point is perfectly applicable and illustratable in professional soccer as anywhere else.
For example, the world's most famous player is a 33 year-old with a gaunt, fragile body, a blond crewcut, and an oft-imitated high voice, about as menacing as a junior varsity cheerleader. He is not a particularly fast runner nor a skillful dribbler, he refuses to use his head for anything other than hawking his line of underwear and cologne and his left foot is about as useful as a third elbow.
His name, of course, is David Beckham a.k.a. The Fifth Beatle. The team he plays for, the Los Angeles Galaxy of the plucky, gritty, Little Engine That Could MLS, will be in town once more, and for the final time this season, this Sunday afternoon at Oakland's McAfee Coliseum. Mr. Posh Spice always draws a crowd, as recently evidenced by the 46,754 paying customers, several of them not teenage girls, that showed up to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey to watch the Galaxy take on the hometown New York Red Bull last July 19th. When the Galaxy met the Earthquakes in Oakland June 14th, they drew 39,872, or about four times what San Jose gets in a typical home date at Santa Clara University's Buck Shaw Stadium, their temporary default home venue.
So what does this bit of news signify for team owner Lew Wolff? That, barring a reversal of team fortunes that would be nothing short of miraculous. The Earthquakes season, from a financial standpoint, will basically come to a close after the referee's final whistle and ambassador Beckham's always friendly wave to the crowd. Unless the team can somehow get on a winning streak and qualify for the playoffs, Sunday will be the final Oakland date of the season and thusly Wolff's last chance for a big rake. The regular season may appear to officially end on October 25 versus Toronto FC, but for all intents and purposes, the accountants can start their vacations on Monday.
In other words, the team might want to start winning some games rather than tying them, and toot sweet.
To that end, both general manager John Doyle and manager Frank Yallop have been burning the candle at both ends in a global search for cheap, available talent, constantly shuttling players in and out of the roster. The latest acquisition, 23-year-old midfielder Arturo Alvarez, comes from a place, FC Dallas, considerably closer than some of their most recent additions. In fact, in trading for Alvarez, who had three goals and three assists in 16 games for Dallas this season, San Jose is merely bringing back a player to his rightful professional home. A Houston native spent the first two seasons of his career with the previous incarnation of the Earthquakes (now the Houston Dynamo) in 2003 and 2004, notching two goals and one assist in 26 appearances. The team was able to nab Alvarez for the 2009 first round pick they had received from the Dynamo a week earlier for the services of forward Kei Kamara. They also dealt away midfielder Ivan Guerrero to D.C. United to free up allocation money for a player they're rumored to be interested in that's currently playing in a league in Malaysia -- no joke.
"We have a lot of new faces here that we didn't have in the beginning and ideally you wish you could have a preseason and play some practice games with everyone together, and maybe that will be the case for next season but for now it's not reality," Yallop said. "With that being said, I don't believe it will take very long for them to figure each other out as soccer is a fairly simple game and players, particularly veteran players, kind of figure out how to read each other and signal each other and play off one another fairly quickly."
Yallop also professed excitement for Alvarez, describing him as, "an exciting, unpredictable player who does a lot of things on his own and improvises, the kind of player we really haven't had here."
Alvarez just faced the Galaxy last Sunday, when FC Dallas thumped the Galaxy 4-0 at home and picked up an assist in the game, so at least somebody on the pitch will have good vibes going into the game. Los Angeles has already defeated San Jose twice this year, scoring five goals and conceding none in the two games, yet this might be the perfect opponent at the perfect time for the Earthquakes as the Galaxy are in a slump of their own, winless in their last six games after crushing the Quakes 3-0 at Oakland behind a hat trick from Edson Buddle.
Los Angeles stands at 6-7-5, including a 2-4-2 mark on the road, and is tied for second in the Western Conference with 23 points. To put their 0-3-3 stretch of futility into perspective, even San Jose has garnered more points than the Galaxy since their last meeting, nabbing four to Los Angeles' three thanks to four draws in six matches. How can they be playing so poorly, with the league's two leading goal scorers in Landon Donovan and Buddle and with Beckham and Donovan tied for second in the league with seven assists apiece? Simple -- their defense is porous, and they've allowed a league worst 37 goals and their goalie Joe Cronin has conceded .46 more goals per game than the league's next most generous keeper.
If the Earthquakes can find their chemistry after a week's worth of practice they should be able to make their final Oakland showing this season memorable as both sides figure to find the back of the net a couple of times in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair.