Beckham could be upstaged as MLS hots up

Miami :David Beckham, closing in on his first title with Los Angeles Galaxy, could be upstaged by lesser-known former English league players as the MLS season reaches its climax.

Beckham and the Galaxy face FC Dallas in the Western Conference final on Sunday and victory would send them to the MLS final where they would meet Colorado Rapids or San Jose Earthquakes -- both guided by coaches born in England.

Colorado`s Gary Smith played in the lower divisions for Colchester United and Wycombe Wanderers and coached at Watford before heading to the United States in 2008.

San Jose head coach Frank Yallop made more than 300 appearances at full back for Ipswich Town and, although he played for Canada, he too was born in the south of England.

Yallop has been in the MLS (Major League Soccer) for several years -- having finished his playing career with the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny -- but Smith has grabbed attention this year by leading the Rapids to their first playoffs since 2006.

Smith played under former Aston Villa and Celtic manager Martin O`Neill at Wycombe and also cites former Arsenal and West Ham United midfielder Stewart Robson and ex-Wimbledon manager Terry Burton as strong influences.

"There are plenty of people that over the years have had an impact on my personality and even the way to address people and conduct yourself with senior and experienced players," Smith told Reuters this week.

"Guys like Martin O`Neill are unforgettable. In the early days of my playing career they had such an impact with the way they conducted themselves."

Smith`s success at Colorado this season has been built around a high-tempo midfield feeding a dangerous strike pairing of American target man Conor Casey and Jamaican Omar Cummings.

"I like them," said Yallop. "They are a good side. They move the ball well. They are dangerous and difficult to contain especially at their place.

"We have our hands full, that`s for sure, in this game. Gary has done a good job of making sure they stayed focused and got their results when they needed to this year."

The only slight blemish on Yallop`s career is an unsuccessful spell at the Galaxy where the coach had to deal with the sudden and frequent changes brought about by former England captain Beckham`s arrival.

"When you`re not winning it`s not fun and it`s how you address the group and it`s how you conduct yourself. I think I`m a positive person and I stayed positive," said Yallop.

"I could easily have crumbled and not been strong. I felt I was a bit of an island down there at times, with what was going on result-wise and all of the stuff going on away from the actual game but I never doubted myself."

Beckham has only had positive things to say about Yallop but, having lost last year`s final, the former Manchester United midfielder is desperate to bring the Galaxy some silverware.

"My drive has never been an issue. I`ve always wanted success. I`m 35 now and I still want it as much as I did when I was 18, 19," he said.

Bureau Report