Late Tuesday Kicks: Donovan, Buddle & more

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Disher Donovan: The Galaxy’s Landon Donovan, seen here tackling Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov, led Everton to another victory with yet another assist today against the Mancunians in England (AP Photo).

You remember that old “Seinfeld” episode about the proctologist with the license plate that read “Assman”? Maybe Landon Donovan should consider getting that vanity plate after his stellar goal-creating performances in England with Everton, although, of course, that would stand for Assist, in this case.

Former Manchester United man Darron Gibson, who left Old Trafford in January, scored the game’s lone goal in the 60th minute off a short pass from the Galaxy playmaker. The MLS loanee has assisted on Everton’s last three goals and four in seven games. Don’t get too attached though Liverpudlians, the Galaxy want him back.

*Another Galaxy player making headlines in Europe is Edson Buddle, given his unconditional release by his second tier German club today in a money-saving move. The Galaxy still hold his MLS rights and if you follow my Twitter feed @LAsoccerblog you would have learned that former Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas tweeted earlier this afternooon: “I’m hearing Edson Buddle is coming back to @LAGalaxy.”

Well, the Galaxy could do with offensive cover what with Robbie Keane heading off for what he hopes is a long time at Euro 2012 next summer and David Beckham presumably playing in the Olympics. Buddle, incidentally, has failed to hook on with a couple of European clubs who took a look, including West Ham United.

No word from the Galaxy yet on Buddle.

BTW, A.J. DeLaGarza, Brian Perk and Michael Stephens have returned to camp from national team duty meaning only Donovan and Robbie Keane are missing. The club has 34 players in camp.

*Former Galaxy defender and now Chivas USA assistant coach Greg Vanney and Los Angeles/Fontana native Ante Razov, who starred for Chivas USA before slouching moodily off into what turned out to be an unannounced retirement, are among a dozen former players eligible for the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, it was announced today. Among the veterans on the ballot: late former LA Aztecs ball wizard George Best.

*The Galaxy announced their English-language and Spanish-language radio schedules today, which can be found here.

From the Galaxy press release:

KTLK 1150 AM, the sister station of Fox Sports Radio, AM 570 KLAC, will return for their fifth consecutive season of broadcasting Galaxy games in English. Joe Tutino and Ralph Perez will once again call the games for KTLK, who will broadcast 24 of the club’s 34 regular season games. In addition to being able to hear all games on KTLK across the Southland, the Galaxy will also make those games available to stream online at lagalaxy.com. Through their website, the club will also stream the 10 games that KTLK are not slated to cover this season, meaning that fans can listen to every Galaxy MLS game all season long in English either on the radio or online.

*Chivas USA announced today that they will will unveil their 2012 jersey on Feb. 12 – at 30,000 feet while flying between Guadalajara and LA on a flight by Mexican airline Volaris.

*San Jose announced Monday that former defender Chris Leitch, who retired rather than join the Galaxy, which took him in the Re-Entry Draft, has been named technical director of the Earthquakes’ youth development academy.

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Weekly column: Club Tijuana gives MLS competition for fans in Southern California

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Club Tijuana fans cheer on Sunday during a 3-1 home loss to Santos Laguna, but they’re mainly just happy to have a team in the highest echelon of Mexican futbol (Photo courtesy Club Tijuana).

There is no doubt that Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente has aspirations of drawing Americans soccer fans over the border and giving MLS a run for its money in this part of the world.

The effort is in its nascent stages in terms of marketing and reaching out to fans.

I’m told, for instance, that there are chartered buses Southern California residents can take to games; I’ve discovered finding out the details of these trips is a little more challenging (so if anyone knows let me know).

Seeing a game in Tijuana is a completely different cultural experience from one at Home Depot Center – not necessarily better, IMHO, despite the comments of fans in the column. But it’s more than simply seeing a sporting event and something MLS could learn from.

It helps too that the city is seeing something of a renaissance culturally including an influx of gourmet restaurants and well-known chefs, a friend who grew up in the city and accompanied me on the trip observed. Crime is way down as well, with the drug violence plaguing some parts of Mexico having moved elsewhere in comparison to a few years ago.

During prohibition the city was the place for Americans to party, especially at the horse racing track the soccer stadium is now built on in part. Now, 80 or so years later, American soccer fans have another excuse to visit, party and watch some of the best players in the world up close (long-time Mexican international goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez was between the posts for Santos for Sunday’s game, for example).

All in all it’s an experience I recommend and one I plan to repeat.

Read more here in today’s column.

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Gratuitous David Beckham Super Bowl underwear ad

Sometimes it seems Galaxy midfielder David Beckham spends more time on a soccer field showing off his abs than his set pieces as he wanders the field shirtless at the end of games.

So this soft porn excerpt ad is nothing new to most soccer fans and will likely be one of the few Super Bowl references you’ll find here this week ahead of Sunday’s game between two teams that are not the Packers.

Here’s a little background on the ad from today’s press release:

Beckham’s Bodywear line introduces nine underwear styles for men, focusing on quality, fit, function, comfort and design, and continues H & M’s successful run of acclaimed guest designer collaborations – most notably Stella McCartney, Madonna, and Roberto Cavalli among many others.

Beckham and his design team spent 18 months developing the collection. The TV ad, filmed in Hollywood earlier this year, is slated to air during the second quarter of Super Bowl XLVI.

And here’s the video, which includes the ad and the immortal line “I love underwear,” which proves, I guess, that if he receives enough money Beckham will say he loves virtually anything:

And if you’re one of those who pays more attention to Super Bowl ads than the actual game, now you have an extra 30 seconds Sunday to pull yourself away from the TV and score some more bean dip.

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Saturday Soccer: USWNT qualifies for Olympics & more

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Got a little Morgan in ya? Alex Morgan celebrates her late goal that clinched a U.S. spot in London’s Olympics Friday in Canada (AP Photo).

Diamond Bar’s fast-rising soccer star Alex Morgan further solidified her undoubted national team credentials by notching the third and final decisive goal:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The final goal in the game that put the U.S. women’s soccer team into the Olympics was scored by Alex Morgan, the super-sub who made her name at last year’s World Cup.

That’s the same Alex Morgan who wasn’t a sub at all in the Americans’ previous game, leading to an interesting moment in a meeting with coach Pia Sundhage.

The formality is that the U.S. beat Costa Rica 3-0 Friday night to earn a ticket to London. The game was quite a bit more suspenseful than expected, with the Americans overcoming some early sloppiness and waiting until deep into the second half to put the game away.

The real fun now begins over the next six months as Sundhage figures out how best to use the best, deepest roster of women soccer players in the world. For instance, the newest hot-off-the-presses talent is Sidney Leroux, who got the call instead of Morgan in the second half of the big win over Mexico three days earlier.

“I asked her how she felt when Sidney Leroux came in the game and she didn’t,” Sundhage said. “I wanted an honest answer. She said ‘I don’t think you want that answer.’ Great. That tells a little about how badly she wants to play.”

Morgan felt she got her point across.

“We both laughed,” Morgan said. “And she said ‘That’s all I need to know.’ … But that’s the great thing with Pia. She lets you feel you can be honest with her. She lets you feel very comfortable around her.”

Morgan’s goal in the 89th minute made the score 34-0 — the margin by which the Americans have outscored their opponents at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. The only one that wasn’t as lopsided as the score was Friday’s London-or-bust semifinal.

“There were moments where I think Costa Rica were outplaying us, and it just shows you how important it was to all of us,” forward Abby Wambach said. “Nobody wanted to make that mistake. And luckily we didn’t.”

Tobin Heath scored in the 16th minute to give U.S. all the offense it needed, and Carli Lloyd (72nd) and Morgan (89th) provided the insurance.

But the top-ranked Americans were certainly not as crisp as they were when they were drawing criticism for running up the score. Bad passes led to giveaways in the first half, forcing goalkeeper Hope Solo to work harder than she has all tournament.

Then again, so much was on the line that some jitters were understandable.

“We know that sometimes under big game circumstances players can get a little tight,” Wambach said. “And you’ve just kind of got to deal with it. … It was almost as if we scored that goal and nobody wanted to get stuck into a tackle. We were kind of playing a little bit soft, and we fixed that in the second half.”

Costa Rica is ranked No. 41 in the world, has never qualified for an Olympics or a World Cup and has never scored on the U.S. in eight meetings.

Las Ticas proved to be scrappy opponents, however, occasionally frustrating the Americans with physical play and just missing on two solid scoring chances in the first half in the London-or-bust match. As the possibility of an upset lingered deep into the second half, the plucky team in red gained the rousing support of the Canadian fans at BC Place.

“We put together three great games in group play,” said Solo, who played despite a slightly pulled right quadriceps that had been bothering her all week. “You can’t play four, five, six. Not every team is going to play perfectly every single game, but we got the job done.”

The U.S. will be the two-time defending champions in London, having taken gold in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008. It will be the third straight Olympics in which the Americans will be trying to make amends for World Cup disappointment from the previous year. They finished second at last year’s World Cup in Germany, losing to Japan in the final.

The victory also puts the Americans into the tournament final Sunday, a bragging-rights-only game against Canada, a 3-1 winner over Mexico in the second semifinal.

Sundhage’s team arrived in Canada with a bit of apprehension. The Americans, having become somewhat complacent from years of uncontested success in the region, were stunned in a World Cup qualifier by host Mexico in November 2010, forcing them into a home-and-away playoff with Italy just to get for the World Cup. Also, the format for Olympic qualifying is such that everything hinges on one game — the do-or-die semifinals — regardless of how a team performs in the rest of the tournament.

Determined to take nothing for granted, the Americans had been full throttle for every game. They set a U.S. team record for goals in a game in a 14-0 win over the Dominican Republic, then nearly matched the feat in a 13-0 rout of Guatemala. Then came a 4-0 win in the much-anticipated rematch with Mexico to set up the semifinal against Costa Rica.

And even though the vital game didn’t go quite as planned, the outcome was all that
mattered.

“We,” Sundhage said, smiling, “are going to London.”

*Also, Chivas USA narrowly lost its opening preseason game Friday night in Ventura County.

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Galaxy’s Donovan stars for Everton with two assists in 2-1 win over Dempsey’s Fulham

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Dempsey vs. Donovan: The two Americans faced off today in the FA Cup (AP Photo). Wonder if they exchanged jerseys.

Landon Donovan continues to excel for Everton with a headline-grabbing game today. Associated Press sports writer Stuart Condie has the story:

LONDON (AP) — On-loan forward Landon Donovan led Everton to its first ever FA Cup win over Fulham and a place in the fifth round on Friday, setting up both goals in his team’s 2-1 win at Goodison.

Fulham had progressed in the FA Cup on all four previous occasions it had been drawn against Everton, and led again against the Toffees through Danny Murphy’s 14th-minute penalty.

But Donovan, in the sixth game of his second loan spell from the Galaxy set up a 27th-minute equalizer for Denis Stracqualursi and then provided the assist for Marouane Fellaini’s 73rd-minute winner.

“Landon’s been great since he’s been here,” Everton assistant manager Steve Round said. “He’s a real diamond of a guy, he’s a very intelligent footballer and the lads all like him. You’ve seen the quality of his end product, whether it be from crosses or set plays. “He’s a top player.”

Rafael van der Vaart scored a 42nd-minute goal for Tottenham in a 1-0 win at League Championship side Watford in Friday’s other fourth-round match.

But Donovan provided arguably the day’s standout performance, helping his side to victory over a Fulham side containing his United States teammate, Clint Dempsey.

Teammates on the last two U.S. World Cup teams, Donovan and Dempsey had not faced each other since May 2006, when Dempsey’s New England Revolution beat the Galaxy 4-0.

This was only the seventh time they had played against each other overall.

After Murphy scored a penalty awarded for a handball by Netherlands defender John Heitinga, Donovan crossed for Stracqualursi to head firmly past Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale.

Dempsey, who has scored two hat tricks in his last three games for Fulham, headed over the bar at the start of the second half following a cross by Bryan Ruiz before Donovan went close with a shot across goal from distance.

Donovan set up the decisive goal with a deep cross to the far post, from where Fellaini guided a header back across Stockdale and into the top corner.

Fulham beat Everton on its way to the 1975 FA Cup final — one of only two finals the west London club has ever reached — and edged out the Toffees in a replay in the teams’ most recent tournament meeting in 2004.

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Galaxy’s Donovan more powerful than Beckham

Yes, you read that right.

Southern California’s own Landon Donovan, a Redlands native, is ranked three places higher than global superstar and part-time underwear model David Beckham on the just released Bloomberg Businessweek Power 100 list of the most powerful professional athletes in American sports.

Donovan checks in at No. 55, while his teammate Beckham is at No. 58.

Of the only other soccer players listed, incidentally, Hermosa Beach resident and U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach checks in at No. 79, while “Dancing with Stars” contestant and national team goalkeeper Hope Solo is at No. 88.

The list, in case you’re wondering, is half based on athletic performance and 50 percent on intangibles such as name awareness, appeal and overall popularity.

So why did Donovan beat out Becks?

“While, as expected, David Beckham did very well with his off-field numbers largely due to his endorsement earnings, his on-field performance brought his overall score down,” said David Newman, vice president of analytics for Atlanta-based CSE, which conducted the study of more than 3,00 athletes. “Meanwhile London Donovan performed statistically better on-field while playing for the Galaxy, Everton and the U.S. national team during the 2011 Gold Cup. This ultimately pushed Donovan ahead of Beckham overall.”

Put another way: Play better Beckham.

And last year was statistically the best of his five years in MLS.

See the entire Power 100 here.

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Wednesday Kicks: Olympic tickets, Hope Solo on ice & more

*Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza and the U.S. plays Panama at 5:30 p.m. today live on Galavision.

*Mexico faces Chivas USA’s Alejandro Moreno and Venezuela in Houston (live 6 p.m. KMEX). More here.

*FOX Soccer announced today it will air live the FA Cup showdown between Americans Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey when Everton and Fulham meet at noon Friday in the fourth-round game. JP Dellacamera and Eric Wynalda will commentate marking the first time Americans have called an FA Cup match on the channel.

*Individual tickets went on sale today for the Group B matches of 2012 men’s Olympic qualifying in Carson.

Here’s the details from the HDC: The group consists of Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago. Doubleheader events involving these four teams will be held March 23, 25 and 27. The top two finishers from each group will advance to the elimination round in Kansas City.

Fans can order tickets online at ussoccer.com, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, at local Ticketmaster ticket centers in the venue cities, and at the respective stadium ticket offices during their local business hours.

*USMNT goalkeeper Hope Solo is a doubt for the crucial Olympics qualification decider _ and her “Dancing with the Stars” stint was a contributing factor in the injury. AP Sports Writer Joseph White has more:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Hope Solo has an ailing leg, the result of some extra work she was putting in to get back into playing shape after “Dancing With the Stars.”

The timing isn’t the greatest. The U.S. women’s soccer team is about to play the game that determines whether it goes to the Olympics.

“We have to make a decision whether she is 100 percent to go or not,” coach Pia Sundhage said Wednesday. “And if she isn’t, we have a tremendous backup goalkeeper.”

The United States plays Costa Rica on Friday in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. The winner goes to London; the loser stays home for the summer.

Solo was clutching her right leg during the Americans’ 4-0 win over Mexico on Tuesday and was wearing on ice pack on the leg after the game. She said she had a “little quad pull,” suffered a few days earlier in practice and aggravated during the first half against the Mexicans.

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Cold as Ice: U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo adjusts an ice pack on her leg following a 4-0 win over Mexico Tuesday in Olympic qualifying (AP Photo).

“Toward the end of the game I was a little worried that I was going to have to come out, but being qualifying and only having three subs, you don’t really want to sub the goalkeeper,” Solo said after the game. “So I definitely knew I could maintain for another 15 minutes.”

Solo has said she lost some of her muscle strength during her two-month run on “Dancing With the Stars,” an appearance that capitalized on the U.S. team’s popularity following last summer’s World Cup. She finished in fourth place with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy, but the moves involved in executing the perfect cha-cha aren’t the same as the ones needed to stop a header at the far post.

“I’m trying to get my quickness back, and my sharpness back, and my kicking back, so I’ve been focusing a lot on my kicking,” she said. “And I think it just fatigued and it pulled a little bit.”

Solo has played every minute of the Americans’ three games at the tournament, but she hasn’t had to do much. The U.S. team has outscored its opponents 31-0, and Solo didn’t have to make a save against Mexico.

And, on paper at least, a less-than-100-percent Solo or backup Nicole Barnhart should be more than enough to hold off Costa Rica.

Las Ticas are ranked No. 41 in the world have never beaten the U.S., having been outscored 34-0 in seven meetings.

But the Americans are wary about the game because they slipped up in the semifinals of World Cup qualifying 14 months ago, losing to Mexico for the first time ever. The defeat forced the U.S. into a playoff to earn a trip to the World Cup in Germany.

There is no such playoff available in Olympic qualifying, so an upset on Friday would keep the world’s top-ranked team out of the Summer Games.

Solo and her teammates got a needed day off Wednesday following a grueling stretch of three games in five days.

“Luckily going into the next game, the most important game, I’ll have an extra day of rest,”
Solo said Tuesday night. “So I think things should be fine. I’m hoping things will be fine.”

While Solo’s dancing stint brought invaluable attention to women’s soccer, Sundhage admits she was apprehensive after finding out that her goalkeeper was taking part.

“I was scared. High heels?” the coach said with a laugh. “It doesn’t matter what I think.
Obviously she wanted to do it. Obviously it was fun for her, and a lot of attention to the
goalkeeper of the national team. But, honestly, I was scared. That outfit? It was so different from the soccer player Hope Solo I know.”

So was the coach rooting against Solo, perhaps hoping for an early elimination?

“I didn’t vote for her,” said Sundhage, laughing again. “I’ll tell you that.”

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Chivas USA signs experienced Colombian to shore up defense

And let’s face it, it’s the back four that is the club’s biggest problem.

So the signing of 30-year-old defender John Alexander Valencia, who has made 112 starts in 114 games for Colombian champion Atletico Junior since 2007, sounds exactly what the club needs.

“John is a player we have been scouting for some time now,” said Chivas USA General Manager Jose Domene in announcing the signing today. “He is a great defender (with a team) that just became champions in Colombia and will help reinforce our backline and help our team win.”

The club also announced the signing of 19-year-old Salvadoran midfielder Marvin Iraheta; he arrived at the club via its youth academy after it merged with Cosmos Academy West last year.

Chivas USA is training up in Oxnard and plays a friendly Friday against the PDL Ventura County Fusion.

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Payback time for USWNT against Mexico tonight?

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Golden girls: UCLA product Sydney Leroux and Diamond Bar’s Alex Morgan celebrate one of the numerous goals the U.S. scored Sunday against Guatemala (AP Photo).

Having scored an incredible 27 goals in its first two Olympic qualifiers, the U.S. shifts its attention today to sturdier prey: Mexico.

The USWNT is talking revenge for that infamous World Cup qualifying defeat, but really the motivation for winning should be more about avoiding Canada in the semis.

Still, at least the location – chilly Vancouver, B.C. is apt; after all isn’t revenge a dish best served cold? AP Sports Writer Joseph White has the preview for the game that will air at
7:30 p.m. on the Universal Sports Network:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Heather Mitts remembers the feeling walking off the field in Cancun, having been a part of the first and only loss the U.S. women’s soccer team has ever suffered in a qualifying match for the World Cup or Olympics.

“It was awful,” Mitts said. “It was obviously for us a real wakeup call. We definitely weren’t
prepared. We weren’t prepared, and they came out and they played great against us.”

Final score: Mexico 2, United States 1. It was Nov. 5, 2010. Mexico had punched its ticket to the World Cup. The Americans would have to play three more games to get there.

The opportunity for payback has arrived. The U.S. plays Mexico on Tuesday for first place in their group in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the London Olympics.

“That’s obviously the game that’s been marked on our calendars this entire tournament,” forward Abby Wambach said.

And, yes, the teams have met once since the game that many consider to be among the biggest upsets in soccer history, but it was an exhibition in New Jersey last June, a warmup for the World Cup won 1-0 by the U.S.

That hardly counted as revenge.

“No. Absolutely not,” Mitts said. “That was a friendly. This is Olympic qualifying. It doesn’t
matter if we’re playing Mexico or not; we still have to win these games to get to the next step.
I think it does add to it that we are playing Mexico — and the revenge factor does help.”

Beyond having a score to settle, the game is a vital one. The region only gets to send two teams to London, and four remain in the hunt. The winner of the U.S.-Mexico game will draw an easier match against Costa Rica in the do-or-die semifinals, while the loser has to play the more formidable Canada.

Coach Pia Sundhage and her players spent much time contemplating what went wrong in Cancun 14 months ago. Sure, the Mexicans had home-field advantage — the rowdy crowd spent the game chanting and throwing cans, bottles, paper and other objects toward the field — but it’s a brutal fact that the Americans were so used to winning that complacency had settled in.

“I definitely think taking a team for granted — and maybe thinking we were better than what we were — had a lot to do with it,” forward Lauren Cheney said.

Cheney also said many of her a teammates were simply exhausted. The Cancun tournament, and the camp that preceded it, had come at the end of the long Women’s Professional Soccer league season.

Sundhage takes the blame for that. She said the team wasn’t sharp during the entire
tournament.

“When I think back, I made a mistake having them together too long,” Sundhage said. “I learned my lesson.”

For the Olympic qualifying, the team had a shorter camp in California before arriving in
Vancouver. It’s hard to judge the results thus far: The Americans have won by scores of 14-0 and 13-0, but their opponents were so overmatched it wouldn’t have mattered much how the U.S. prepared. The most helpful result of the blowouts is an overwhelming goal differential that means a draw against Mexico will be enough to win the group.

Mexico also has been cruising through the tournament, winning 5-0 and 7-0 against the same teams the Americans have played. The lopsided scores have allowed both teams to rest key players to keep them fresh for Tuesday’s showdown.

While the Americans cite the loss in Cancun as more evidence of a growing parity in women’s soccer, Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar said his country has far to go to catch up with its counterparts to the north.

“They’re obviously the best in the world,” Cuellar said. “You see the U.S. and Canada, they basically have national teams that if they’re not living together, they are dedicated to a national team. For us we still have players that go to school, go to work. We’re at a different level, so it’s a big challenge for us.”

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Inglewood’s Villarreal living South Bay soccer dream with the Galaxy

Inglewood resident Jose Villarreal, 18, who still lives at home with his parents, has become the first South Bay native to join the South Bay-based Galaxy from the club’s youth academy.

He spent his first day on the job Monday, not so much overawed by training on the same field as the likes of David Beckham as shivering because of the torrential rain players endured.

“It was OK, but I couldn’t focus it was so cold out there,” he said. “It was raining. It was freezing. I couldn’t feel my hands.”

Welcome to the daily life of a soccer pro. With a locker right next to the absent Robbie Keane’s, it’s an existence Villarreal is still getting accustomed to.

He grew up cheering for his dad’s Mexican team, Cruz Azul, but started paying attention to the Galaxy and MLS when David Beckham signed five years ago.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of friends who are asking: ‘When is your jersey coming out?’ (he was assigned No. 33, incidentally.

“I get a lot of texts, a lot of Facebook messages, (asking) ‘how does it feel to be with Beckham?’”

His answer: Don’t know yet (Beckham introduced himself and that’s about it so far).

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