Heart. Vision. Execution.
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These three characteristics must be found at the core of every footballer that desires greatness. They embody the passion, drive, and skill required to rise above the mire of average players or those labeled as “having potential,” in order to reach a level that many have dreamed of, yet few have reached. They are qualities which separate, as the old adage goes, the winners from the losers.
While each ability on their own can take a player a certain distance, great footballers must possess all three. Having the vision to know which pass or shot to make is worthless without being capable to execute, but both can be wasted if the player has no heart; no motor spurning him forward through the tedious, painful, or seemingly futile.
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A team (which hopes to be comprised of eleven such players) also distances itself from the wannabes and pretenders with the exact same virtues. In professional sports, talent and ability run abound. A team cannot rely solely upon the skill of its players, but instead needs redeemable qualities to gain that edge on its opponent. Heart. Vision. Execution.
A team with only heart can make for a great story, yet often times are overwhelmed by the more skillful adversary. A team with the correct vision can stymie an opponent through preparation, but many plans fail in their execution. Oftentimes, a team with seemingly endless amounts of talent and ability to execute, like many Real Madrid teams of the 21st century, lack the wherewithal to overcome adversity of the occasional speed bump on their way to the top. The best teams have all of the above.
So as the Los Angeles Galaxy returned home for the second leg of the Conference Semi-Finals with a slight one goal advantage over the Seattle Sounders, the questions lingered in the air: Which team would prove worthy to move onward in the playoffs? Which players would display the heart, vision, and execution necessary to propel their team to greatness?
The Galaxy invested heavy amount of money in superstar David Beckham for situations exactly like the one the team found themselves in this past weekend. After encountering many speed bumps (criticisms, sub-par performances, and injuries) in his short MLS career, does Beckham still possess the characteristics of a great footballer? Can he contribute at a high level as the Galaxy seeks their first title in five years?
It is because these questions that we examine David Beckham’s performance in this week’s feature of The Whiteboard.
16 passes completed, 3 incomplete for a percentage of 84%
7 completed crosses, 12 incomplete for a percentage of 37%
3 successful tackles
1 foul drawn
1 intercepted pass
1 blocked shot
1 yellow card
The Galaxy moved on to the Conference Finals after a 2-1 win, 3-1 aggregate, on Sunday night at the Home Depot Center, and it was in many thanks due to the heart, vision, and execution of David Beckham. It is important to analyze his fulfillment of these abilities to understand how the Galaxy can be successful moving forward towards MLS Cup in Toronto.
At 35 years of age, Beckham is certainly no spring chicken. Coming off of a serious Achilles injury does him no favors in a game made for the young and healthy. Yet, it was the Englishman who was found sprinting tirelessly down the pitch in defense and back up in attack for the entire ninety-four minutes. Throughout the game, Beckham’s work rate was very high. He closed attackers down quickly. While sprinting to win a loose ball (and winning it), the former Galaxy captain was pushed by a Sounders defender out of bounds and, with a loud thud, into the advertising board. By the end of the game, and nursing the aggregate lead, Beckham was assisting the defense by lining up between right back Sean Franklin and center back Omar Gonzalez, essentially acting as another defender. Unlike the other defenders, however, Beckham would sprint forward in attack, occasionally up the entire pitch in one run. At the very end of the game, Beckham could be seen capably tracking with the dangerous Zakuani (13 years Becks’ junior), who is known for his speed up the flank.
Clearly, Beckham had the heart of a winner. His tireless effort on both sides of the ball undoubtedly rubbed off on his teammates, as the work rate of the entire team was higher than that of Seattle’s. As a player, seeing an older man working himself to his outer limits only serves as a motivator. We should demand this from our stars, but American sports fans have come to cynically expect to be let down by the players who get paid the most. On Sunday night, Beckham, Donovan, Lewis, and more left it all on the field for the Galaxy.
Listening to the broadcasters, who were generous in their praises, and examining the number of crosses into the box from the whiteboard demonstrates Beckham’s expert vision. There is no other player in Major League Soccer who attempts as many crosses as David Beckham, period. While the rate of completion is low compared to a square pass, the dividends of a cross can be so much higher.
Despite his misses, Beckham’s crosses simply created havoc for Seattle by stretching the defenders and generating communication errors between keeper Kasey Keller and his back line. Many crosses led to frantic Seattle clearances and quick repossession for the Galaxy or forced the defenders to ease the ball out of bounds for one of Beckham’s dangerous corner kicks.
In the eighty-third minute of the game, Beckham had made his way from defense to the attacking third of the pitch when he played a great lead-ball to a sprinting Landon Donovan who lifted it agonizingly high and just over the bar. Beckham noticed Landon’s run early on and gave him the easiest ball possible to get into the box. Had Landon’s finish, which was no cakewalk, been better, the end of the game would have been nothing but a mere formality.
Beckham’s vision, which oftentimes gets too much praise when he’s not executing, was causing fits for Sounders’ defenders all game long. It is simply no fun to defend those dangerous balls being lifted over a player’s head all game long, from both the run of play and on set pieces. Safe to say, Seattle defenders were not enjoying themselves on Sunday night.
As mentioned above, vision can be virtually worthless without execution. Beckham’s cross completion percentage was a mere 37% and only 60% of his total touches found the feet or head of a teammate. While it would seem that he was giving the ball away too much, his crosses are high risk/ high reward. The correct execution of just a few crosses will make a hero out of a zero. As was the case in Carson, Beckham proved to be deadly on two set pieces; one corner kick, one indirect free kick. He notched his first assist in the nineteenth minute by whipping in one of his many dangerous corner kicks, finding the head of the lethal Edson Buddle, who happily nodded the ball at a place that Keller could not reach. Just eight minutes later, Beckham sealed his man of the match honors when his well placed free kick was impeccably headed (seriously, this should be the quintessential lesson in ‘How to Score a Header’) by Gonzalez into the back of the net.
Beckham, as well as any other player, would be happy to complete less than 60% of his crosses in exchange for two assists. Oftentimes, lack of precision can make a player look like a bum, but Beckham has made a career off of his execution of crosses and set pieces. It is sometime forgotten, but games like his against Seattle remind us why Beckham is world-renown. His service can change games.
In the end of the series, the qualities that Beckham put on display were derivative of the team’s as whole. Seattle will be sitting on the couch, watching the rest of the playoffs on TV because the Galaxy were hungrier, had a better game plan, and finished their chances. Once again, it all came down to heart, vision, and execution.
A solid A- performance aside, Beckham was just one cog in a machine of eleven gears. In this case, it was a well oiled, conceived, and built machine.