Miss Honolulu -- and former UH volleyball player -- Raeceen Woolford welcomed David Beckham to Hawaii yesterday.
Beckham shares the spotlight
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At least one person wasn't star-struck by David Beckham yesterday.
First round tomorrow: Gamba Osaka vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 6 p.m.; Houston Dynamo vs. Sydney FC, 8:30 p.m., Aloha Stadium
Lieutenant Governor James "Duke" Aiona glowed about the level of play in tomorrow's inaugural Pan-Pacific Championships at Aloha Stadium, but saved his biggest praise for a hometown hero at a press conference at Hilton Hawaiian Village.
"You got the likes of David Beckham, you got the stars from Japan, from Australia, but for us here in Hawaii, and no offense to Dave Beckham, we got probably the biggest draw that you could ever have ... and that's Brian Ching," Aiona said.
Ching, a Haleiwa native and Kamehameha graduate, sat just a seat away from Aiona, and could only smile sheepishly.
Both Ching, a star forward for the MLS-champion Houston Dynamo, and Beckham, the world-famous Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder, were present to promote the four-team exhibition tournament, along with players and coaches from Gamba Osaka of the J-League and Sydney FC of the Hyundai A-League.
Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear encouraged anyone with a passing interest in soccer to give the two-day event a chance.
"I'm very surprised tickets are $10," Kinnear said. "I myself went down and had a pina colada, which was also $10. If everybody can just hold off on one pina colada, then we'll see more people at the games."
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN
Los Angeles Galaxy soccer player David Beckham, center, was flanked by Hawaii Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, left, and Osaka Gamba coach Akira Nishino during a news conference for the Pan-Pacific Soccer Championship yesterday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki.
Going into their first full seasons of Major League Soccer, David Beckham and his new coach are of similar mind.
The renowned midfielder from England was courteous but consistently businesslike yesterday in his first visit to Hawaii. He fielded questions about his travel plans, but quickly steered the subject back to the Los Angeles Galaxy's preparation for its first opponent in this week's Pan-Pacific Championships, Gamba Osaka of the J-League tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Aloha Stadium.
Beckham, 32, is highly motivated after the Galaxy failed to qualify for the MLS playoffs after his much-publicized arrival to America midway through last season. But he was hampered by a knee injury in his quest to raise the profile of the burgeoning league, and was limited to five games, tallying two assists and no goals, as Los Angeles finished 9-14-7.
"There has to be (hunger)," Beckham said at a press conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. "We were all disappointed last season, but it's a fresh start. With the new manager (Ruud Gullit), some new players, a new team, and a new togetherness ... I think that we need to win something or need to reach the playoffs this season. It's disappointing when you don't.
"If we play how we've shown we can play and work hard for each other, we can achieve things. But it's all about hard work."
The inaugural PPC comes in the first few weeks of the MLS preseason, in which Gullit -- who previously coached English Premier League teams Chelsea and Newcastle -- seeks to instill discipline in his team leading up to the Galaxy's season opener against the Colorado Rapids next month.
Gullit, a widely respected veteran from The Netherlands, has brought with him a rigorous two-a-day fitness regimen that never strays too far from his players' minds. The Galaxy will continue their training at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Park throughout the week.
"It's the first time I am in Hawaii, so it's a great opportunity to see the island," Gullit said. "Of course, we are here to play a tournament. We have some players who have some injury problems that need to be resolved, but we are still taking these games very seriously."
The coach, mindful of keeping his players healthy, intends to substitute liberally and put his full roster to work here. He hinted that some players with questionable health, such as touted offseason acquisition Carlos Ruiz, may sit out.
Beckham, a veteran of three World Cups (1998, 2002, 2006) is believed to be at full strength after training for a month with Arsenal of the Premiership for a month in the offseason.
The Coral Ballroom was abuzz with his presence. Even his opponent sitting at the same dais, Satoshi Yamaguchi of Gamba Osaka, seemed a little star-struck.
Asked who he most wanted to face in the four-team tournament, Yamaguchi replied through a translator, "Of course, Mr. Beckham," drawing laughs from the international media horde.
Beckham said he'll be giving it his all against Gamba in tomorrow's opening round and in either the third-place or championship game Saturday. Playing "friendlies" in far-flung locations -- such as Hawaii -- is important to instill a love of the sport in future generations.
"We're here for people to see what we can do on the field," he said. "Young children, young people, take notice, and especially children who are interested in soccer.
"That's the biggest thing about big competitions like this, is the fact that it raises awareness of the game, and also brings an excitement to a place where soccer might not be as big as it is in different parts of the world."