Gearing up for Galaxy

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:13 AM ET

The photo props included a soccer ball, the stadium and snow.

Tom Payne is hoping the snow will be long gone when his Los Angeles Galaxy visits Commonwealth Stadium on May 13.

Yesterday, the assistant general manager of the Major League Soccer club, which became an international spectacle with the signing of superstar David Beckham, took a tour of the facilities in Edmonton for the upcoming exhibition game against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

"The stadium is awesome," Payne said. "Some of the public space they have in here, like the gym and other things, is better than what they have in most of the stadiums we've been in."

Payne was joined by Whitecaps CEO Rachel Lewis and director of professional teams Greg Anderson on his tour.

The Galaxy agreed to the game -- being organized in part by the Edmonton Eskimos -- without having seen the facility. Last November the two teams played a scoreless exhibition game in front of 48,172 fans at B.C. Place.

"I completely trust the people in Vancouver," Payne said. "We did a great game with them at B.C. Place. The only thing there was that we prefer to play on (natural) grass, so we look forward to this opportunity."

Since signing the world's most recognizable player, the Galaxy have gone global.

They recently completed a tour of Asia and have also played exhibition games in Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.

"We look at it as our charter to take the game to different markets," Payne said. "I know there are not a lot of high-level soccer games in Edmonton and I think with the folks from Vancouver and their team, we'll put on a really good show here and the people will love it."

The Galaxy open their MLS campaign Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.

Beckham, meanwhile, was summoned by the English national team to play an exhibition game against France today.

It will mark the 100th time he has suited up for his country, joining English legends Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Peter Shilton and Billy Wright in reaching that milestone.

For the Edmonton match, Beckham is contracted to play at least 45 minutes. As of yesterday, over 25,000 tickets have been sold for the game.

Organizers are looking at eclipsing the Vancouver crowd.

"That's the goal," Payne said. "At home we play in a stadium that is 27,000 seats. We'd like to ask the people of Edmonton to make sure to get out there and see it. We played in front of 85,000 in Australia in the fall.

"We played in the largest attended game in New Zealand. It's a bit of a circus with the Galaxy coming into town sometimes, but we put on a great show."

The Galaxy went all out to bring Beckham to North America, signing the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star to a contract reportedly worth $250 million US.

From a marketing perspective, according to Payne, the team's expectations have been exceeded since his arrival. On the field, however, Beckham had a tough opening season in the MLS.

Coming to the U.S. after a long European season where he helped Real Madrid capture a Spanish League title, Beckham suffered ankle and knee injuries, limiting him to eight games.

"He needs to be on the field, we know that's important," Payne said. "He's a really competitive guy and at the end of the day we need to be a real competitive team on the field. You can't guarantee that he'll stay healthy, you can't do that with anything. But he's in unbelievable shape."

The Galaxy, however, offer more than just Beckham.

They are coached by former Dutch star Rudd Gullit, feature American star Landon Donovan, Guatemalan international Carlos Ruiz and former Portuguese international Abel Xavier.

"It's been a learning experience," Payne said. "We've gone from being an important team in our league to totally rebranding ourselves by adding the most famous athlete in the world who's still playing for his country and is still looked at as a great player in the world."


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