EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (AFP) - David Beckham's return to Major League Soccer was a low-key affair, the star midfielder barely factoring into the Los Angeles Galaxy's 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls.
Playing in a stadium nearly three-quarters empty, Beckham looked sluggish, making no significant crosses, taking no free-kick opportunities near the goal and not even taking all of the Galaxy's corner kicks.
It was Beckham's first MLS match since the finish of the Italian League season on May 31.
The 34-year-old former England captain had been loaned by the Galaxy to AC Milan with the proviso that he return for the entire 2009 MLS season, but he got his stay in Europe extended.
Some fans clearly still felt the lure of his fame, angling for pictures when he did take a corner kick, but many booed when Beckham came out of the match in the 70th minute.
Not only was Beckham's belated return to the MLS seen as a slap in the face to US football, but a squabble with Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan has further sullied his return.
Beckham appeared to go out of his way to be friendly with Donovan, who criticized his teammate in a book published this week, charging Beckham failed to give his all for the Galaxy in the latter stages of their disappointing 2008 campaign.
Beckham and Donovan, who has resumed his role as captain after the armband was stripped from the Englishman, shook hands and embraced prior to Thursday's kickoff.
Whether Beckham will be able to smooth things over with US fans, however, remains to be seen.
The Galaxy drew a crowd of 66,237 for their 5-4 win at the Red Bulls two years ago, the largest football crowd at Giants Stadium for a US league game in 27 years.
Attendance dropped to 46,754 for last year's 2-2 draw and fell by 50 percent to 23,238 Thursday. While the turnout was low, it was still more than double the Red Bulls' previous home average this year of 11,385.
The Galaxy said Thursday that their upcoming exhibition against AC Milan at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles is sold out.
Alecko Eskandarian, Donovan and Eddie Lewis scored first-half goals for the Galaxy, who are battling for an MLS playoff berth.
Juan Pablo Angel scored on an 87th-minute penalty, but failed to convert another in the 90th minute for the MLS-worst Red Bulls.
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