David Beckham came off the bench for the final 13 minutes but his Los Angeles Galaxy debut was a losing one as Chelsea’s pre-season campaign continued with a 1-0 win at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
Beckham brought the sell-out crowd of 27,000 to its feet as he slotted into central midfield but his contribution was limited to a handful of touches as Chelsea dominated possession to hold on to a lead they had held since the 49th minute when John Terry fired home from the edge of the area.
And there was a scare in stoppage time as Steve Sidwell brought Beckham down with a challenge that left the England star grimacing.
Beckham, 32, has been struggling with ankle ligament damage he sustained on June 6 while playing for England against Estonia and aggravated the injury as Real Madrid beat Real Mallorca to win the Spanish La Liga title on June 17.
He had not taken a full part in training with his new team the Galaxy since arriving in Los Angeles nine days ago and has been receiving treatment from club physios all week, including deep tissue massage.
Beckham did not join his team-mates for the pre-match warm-up waiting to make his appearance with a solo walk around the perimeter of the pitch just before kick-off.
He took his seat at the end of the Galaxy bench to see his team-mates start with much more purpose than they had done in midweek when he watched them lose 3-0 to Mexican side Tigres from an executive box.
Coach Frank Yallop made just two changes to the team beaten so comprehensively by Tigres on Tuesday night, bringing in veteran midfielder Cobi Jones in Alan Gordon as a second striker alongside Carlos Pavon at the expense of midfielders Chris Klein, sent off against the Mexicans, and Peter Vagenas.
Yet for all their purpose and possession, the first chance fell to Chelsea and Florent Malouda in the 11th minute who met Paolo Ferreira’s cross from the right with a side-footed volley that forced a save from Joe Cannon.
At the other end Peter Cech was brought into the action two minutes later when he cleared his lines from a Martino cross straight into the path of Cobi Jones whose shot he pushed wide at full stretch.
Cech was in command again on the quarter hour as he picked a Landon Donovan free-kick off the head of Gordon. Galaxy were warming to their task as Jones crossed from the right to the back post where Kyle Martino sent a diving header just past the post.
It was then that Chelsea took over, with Floren Malouda again looking sharp down the left, teeing up Salomon Kalou and Shaun Wright-Phillips for shots that both missed the target.
Carvalho and Drogba followed suit as Chelsea failed to make the breakthrough.
Abel Xavier nearly put the Galaxy in front against the run of play when Donovan sent in a free-kick from the left in the 39th minute. The former Portugal defender’s header from the penalty spot was on target, forcing Cech to tip over the bar to keep the game scoreless at half-time.
Jose Mourinho made only three changes at half-time, bringing on Joe Cole, Andriy Shevchenko and Carlo Cudicini, but he switched both Essien and Malouda into full-back roles.
Terry made the breakthrough four minutes after the restart, after Frank Lampard’s corner ricocheted around the box before falling to the Chelsea and England captain, who drove through the crowded area and into the net.
Kalou nearly doubled the lead a minute later but sent a free header straight at Cannon. And when Drogba found the net to finish off a slick move involving Kalou and Shevchenko, referee Brian Hall ruled it out for offside.
From the hour mark the attention was more on the Galaxy bench than the pitch as one of Yallop’s assistants approached Beckham and the new Galaxy star started lacing up his boot. He began warming up six minutes later and then disappeared into the tunnel three minutes after that, not reappearing until the 75th minute.
When his tracksuit top came off in the 77th minute, it brought the biggest cheer of the night and he replaced Gordon to immediately take up a central midfield role.
His first touch came almost three minutes later as he sent a trademark cross-field pass from inside his own half to the head of fellow sub Quavas Kirk. A short pass followed but his third pass went astray.
Then Sidwell clipped him around the ankles as Beckham tried to find some space and there was concern as he seemed to stay down clutching his ankle. He got up quickly and appeared to hobble momentarily but was confident enough to take his first corner, again finding a Galaxy head in the dying moments.