By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 28, 2008
By MLS's standards, tomorrow's match between D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy is as big as it gets during the long regular season, a midday encounter that will be broadcast by ABC, draw twice as many spectators as normal to RFK Stadium and bring together the league's fiercest attacks and three of its top four scorers.
Adding zest to the meeting will be the reunion of two players who, nearly a decade ago in a small city deep in France's Rhone-Alpes region, were involved in one of the sport's most celebrated games.
The occasion was a World Cup second-round match between England and Argentina, a bitter rivalry that stretches from sports to politics. During a contest accentuated by majestic goals and free-flowing soccer, David Beckham tarnished his sparkling image by receiving a red card for kicking an Argentine player during a stoppage in play.
Marcelo Gallardo, a rising star for Argentina, entered midway through the second half of the 2-2 game in Saint-Etienne and, when regulation and overtime failed to decide a winner, the little midfielder converted one of his team's four successful penalty kicks to send Beckham home as the scapegoat.
One day short of that game's 10th anniversary, Beckham, 33, and Gallardo, 32, will meet again in the twilight of their careers.
"To have them on the field again together is, for me as a young player, a dream to play with guys like this," said United's Santino Quaranta, who, at age 13, watched the 1998 game at his home in Baltimore. "I'm very excited to watch those two, and you throw [teammate Jaime Moreno] into the picture, that's three soccer brains that are brilliant."
Gallardo, who never achieved Beckham's fame and fortune but enjoyed a fine European and South American career before joining United this year, declined to reminisce about that World Cup game because, he said, it happened so long ago.
But when asked about the big-game atmosphere surrounding tomorrow's match, he said through an interpreter: "It is weird, actually, that the game is getting so much attention, because where I am from, every game is like this. But it's good that a game like this is getting all this attention. It's good for the sport of soccer."
Beckham and Gallardo were in the same stadium in Sapporo, Japan, at the 2002 World Cup, but while Beckham redeemed himself by scoring on a 44th-minute penalty kick and playing the entire match, Gallardo remained on the bench. England reached the quarterfinals, losing to eventual champion Brazil, while Argentina's campaign ended with first-round elimination and Gallardo not playing a minute.
Though England and Argentina have squared off just 14 times since 1951, passions run deep. The rivalry intensified in the 1980s because of the Falklands War and the 1986 World Cup game in which Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal helped oust the English in the quarterfinals.
A dozen years passed before they met again in a World Cup.
"I remember watching with friends," said United defender Gonzalo Peralta, an Argentine who was 17 in the summer of '98. "In my country, soccer is most important, and everyone takes it very seriously. Always when you play against England, it is a very exciting game."
Meanwhile, the promise of a high-scoring, entertaining match tomorrow between the Galaxy (31 goals in 13 games) and United (24 in 14) could be undermined by high temperature, humidity and thunderstorms. Both Gallardo and United Coach Tom Soehn said they are troubled by the noon kickoff, which was dictated by national TV. The game will precede ABC's coverage of the European Championship final between Germany and Spain.
"It is sort of a contradiction because you are trying to bring in so many people, but then it is not going to be the best show" because of the conditions, Gallardo said.
Added Soehn, "Sometimes our scheduling needs to be consistent in making sure performances are all set up [for] attractive soccer."
United Notes: Reserve forward Francis Doe was scheduled to arrive in Washington yesterday after spending a month with Liberia's national team. Passport and visa issues had delayed his return by several days. . . . By yesterday afternoon, about 33,000 tickets had been sold for tomorrow's match. . . .
Commenting on the club's decision to waive Argentine forward Franco Niell on Thursday, Soehn said, "We brought him with pretty high expectations to push for a starting spot, and unfortunately it didn't unfold like that." United will look to acquire a replacement soon, Soehn said, but it will not necessarily be a forward. A Latin American report has linked United with midfielder Dagoberto Currimilla, who started all six games for Chile at last year's Under-20 World Cup.