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Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Pitch battles facing Beckham
By Paul Fletcher

David Beckham
Playing in the MLS will test Beckham's fitness and powers of recovery
David Beckham will become the key marketing tool for Major League Soccer following his move to LA Galaxy.

Off the field there seems no doubt that 'Brand Beckham' is hoping to take the United States by storm.

The viewing public get their first glimpse of Beckham in action on Saturday when the midfielder makes his debut against Chelsea in a friendly.

The match is a 27,000 sell-out and a large, live television audience expected.

Beckham - still struggling with a slight ankle injury - has joined the Galaxy on a five-year deal and must ensure he produces on the pitch.

Terry Cooke, a former team-mate of Beckham's at Manchester United, has been with the Colorado Rapids since 2005.

Danny Dichio, who first played against Beckham as a nine-year-old in London, left Preston for Toronto FC in May.

They explain the similarities and differences between playing football in Europe and the MLS - and the new challenges that face Beckham.


In Europe there is not the huge variation in temperature that there is in the United States.

It did not take Cooke long after moving from Sheffield Wednesday to Colorado to realise that he would have to learn to acclimatise from game to game.

"There are vastly different temperatures between many of the different states," Cooke told BBC Sport.

"It depends a lot on the altitude at which you play.

"At Colorado we play at altitude, which should benefit our fitness, but when we drop to sea level there is often a lot of humidity so we don't really have any advantage.

"Every team has their advantages and disadvantages."

One of Dichio's first away games following his transfer from Preston was against Real Salt Lake in Utah.

"It was 110F, and that is hot," Dichio told BBC Sport.

"It has been really hot in Toronto recently and we have been kicking off in the afternoon rather than in the evening to meet television requirements. It is hard to play in that sort of heat."


America is a large country - more than 3.7m square miles compared to England's 50,436 - and with Canadian side Toronto now in the league the travelling requirements have increased.

Terry Cooke in action for Colorado Rapids
Geography is a big factor and that impacts on the travel

Terry Cooke

The notion of local rivalary will take on a whole new meaning for Beckham, who could look forward to a city derby at both Manchester United and Real Madrid.

"Geography is a big factor and that impacts on the travel," said Cooke.

"Our closest rivals are Salt Lake - that is classed as our derby and is a 90-minute flight or an eight-hour drive.

"The longest flight for us in New England at four-and-a-half hours. When you do that the day before a game it takes a lot out of you and it does take its toll during the course of a season. Recovery from travel is a big issue over here."

Dichio agrees that Beckham faces a whole new set of challenges when it comes to travel.

"Sometimes when you travel the time zones change by two or three hours. It means you have to travel several days in advance," said Dichio.


Aside from a brief loan spell at Preston at the very start of his career, Beckham has spent his entire career in either the English or Spanish top flight.

Danny Dichio (left) in action against Real Salt Lake's Jack Stewart
I think there is a misconception in England that the MLS is not taken seriously in America

Danny Dichio

Cooke and Dichio have both played in several different tiers of the English game and roughly agree on what sort of standard Beckham can expect.

Cooke believes that the standard has improved since he arrived and now reckons "most teams would hold their own at Championship level".

Dichio also thinks Beckham should prepare himself for a Championship standard.

"It is a very quick league, quite physical and it has surprised me how good it is technically," said Dichio.

Despite that, questions inevitably remain about whether the standard of football is strong enough to help Beckham prolong his international career with England.

Cooke still thinks the tempo is slower than in Europe and has noticed that it decreases further as the season moves deeper into the American summer.

However, aspects in which MLS is not lacking, according to both Cooke and Dichio, is fitness and determination.

"Americans are natural athletes," Added Cooke. "In terms of fitness levels they are probably on a par with the top clubs in England."

And Dichio agrees: "I think there is a misconception back home.

"Because football is not a top sport over here people assume it is not taken as a serious game but I think you'll find the majority of the guys in the league go out every week and take the game really seriously."

He also thinks that many of the facilities, stadiums and backroom support systems are of an excellent standard.


Dichio has been amazed by the atmosphere at Toronto home games - and compares it with the best he has experienced in England.

Toronto are currently in their first season as an MLS team and the former QPR, Sunderland and West Brom forward said: "It has surprised a lot of us who have played in Europe how willing the fans are to get behind the team.

"We have a diverse section of fans - Italians, Portuguese, French, South Americans and Canadians who come to the ground with their game-day cheers."
Colorado Rapids supporters at their home ground of Dick's Sporting Goods
Nobody seems to chant in the MLS but fans generally seem to get behind the whole team

Terry Cooke

But according to Cooke, Beckham should not expect chanting and terrace songs.

"It is not like England, where it is more passionate," said Cooke.

"Nobody seems to chant over here - they generally seem to get behind the whole team and support everyone but the fans never single anyone out like they do in England."

More and more MLS teams are playing in purpose-built football stadiums and Beckham can expect to experience a superior, more intimate atmosphere in these sort of grounds.

The Spanish he learnt in Madrid could also come in handy as many teams have large support from the Hispanic community.


Beckham will spend more time delivering crosses than trying to get on the end of them - but the attitude of the MLS referees might have an impact on what sort of trajectory he puts on the ball.

Dichio, a tall, uncompromising target man used to battling with central defenders, has struggled to adjust to the refereeing in the league.

"The refereeing has been interesting," said the 32-year-old.

"Over here there is an impromptu whistle every time I go up with a defender. It is something I have to get used to because they are not lenient on the physical battle."

Cooke reckons the Hispanic referees in particular tend to penalise the physical aspects of the game.

"The majority of refs are OK, though it is becoming more difficult for them as the game speeds up." he said.

"A lot of the referees are Hispanic and they see the game a little bit differently than the American officials, who tend to let more things go."

Cooke's team line-up with a 4-4-2 formation, but the 30-year-old believes that systems are often tailored to a team's climatic conditions.

Most of the teams Dichio has played against have started with a 4-4-2 formation, but he has also encountered 3-4-3 and 5-4-1.

He has enjoyed the challenge of coming to terms with different systems - but has struggled with some of the Americanisms.

"They have different expressions that take some getting used to," said Dichio.

"During training ground banter every penalty is a PK, a free-kick is an FK."

And despite two years in America, Cooke is still coming to terms with the word soccer.

"It still feels weird saying soccer instead of football," said the winger.

"It does not feel natural. I have got to say it though because if you say football people think about American football."


Dichio wasted no time in getting off the mark in the MLS, scoring after 24 minutes of his second game for Toronto.

Danny Dichio in action for Toronto
Dichio made a superb start to his career with Toronto

It was Toronto's fifth game of the season - but their first ever MLS goal. (Dichio set another first later in the match when he was sent-off)

Dichio went on to score five goals in his first nine games for the club as Toronto enjoyed an upturn in form.

In contrast, Dichio failed to score a league goal in his entire first season at previous club Preston, though he did notch three times in cup competitions.

In total, Dichio scored five goals in 63 Championship appearances in almost two seasons at Preston - a disparity with his form in Toronto that has not gone unnoticed with his English team-mates in Canada.

"The likes of Carl Robinson and Andy Welsh have been saying that if I had scored that ratio of goals back in England I would have been Peter Crouch's understudy for the national team," joked Dichio.

Cooke, a winger like Beckham, took longer to adjust to playing in the MLS.

"It helps that English is the language over here," added Cooke.

"But it still took me quite a while to adjust - at least half a season, which was a lot longer than I thought it would.

"People come over on big money and are expected to produce straight away. Now I understand that does not happen overnight - you have to give people time to settle."


Cooke believes that the Beckham effect has been evident for some time.

"The news about Beckham has brought more limelight, more TV deals and more endorsements," he said.

David Beckham
Beckham is going to put bums on seats

Danny Dichio

Cooke came through the youth team ranks at Manchester United with Beckham but has not seen his former team-mate for four or five years.

But Cooke's team are scheduled to play the LA Galaxy twice before the end of the season - and he is looking former to coming up against his former colleague.

Dichio was a nine-year-old at Forest United in London when he played a cup final against a Ridgeway Rovers team with Beckham in the line-up.

Their paths crossed several times at junior representative level in London and again in the Premiership.

"I just hope he enjoys it as much as I am at the moment," said Dichio.

"I think he will. I think he is ready for it and the whole country is waiting for him to come over.

"He has got that added pressure on him but he has had that all his life and I think he is the kind of guy that can handle it.

"He is going to put bums on seats."

Galaxy rule out Premier club bid
16 Jul 07 |  Football
Beckham hype gives Galaxy trouble
10 Jul 07 |  Football
Beckham - the Stateside reaction
12 Jan 07 |  Football
Beckham agrees to LA Galaxy move
12 Jan 07 |  Football
Beckham's rollercoaster ride
11 Jan 07 |  Football
MLS paves way for big-name buys
11 Nov 06 |  Football


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