TORONTO -- Facing West Ham United in Thursday's Major League Soccer All-Star game will bring back a lot of memories for David Beckham.
The England international and Los Angeles Galaxy captain was born and raised miles from West Ham's stadium in East London. Influenced by his parents, Beckham grew up a fan of Manchester United, but many of his friends and neighbors cheered for the Hammers.
"It's great, being an East End boy, playing against West Ham so many times for Manchester United, and also scoring against West Ham, which didn't go down well with a few friends," Beckham said Wednesday after training with the MLS All-Stars.
Beckham, who joined Los Angeles last July after four years with Spanish team Real Madrid, is intent on proving the quality of MLS by helping the league extend a four-year unbeaten run against foreign opponents when they face West Ham at Toronto's BMO Field.
"It's always nice to play against a quality team," Beckham said. "They're a team that's got some good players, they're working toward the start of the Premiership. Of course, it's great to play against good opposition and it will be a tough game. We're looking forward to that. You always want to play against good players and good teams and we're up against that."
The MLS All-Stars beat Mexico's Guadalajara 3-1 in 2003 and defeated English team Fulham 4-1 in 2005. They haven't allowed a goal the past two years, blanking England's Chelsea 1-0 in 2006 and beating Scotland's Celtic 2-0 last summer.
Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan expects Beckham will have plenty to play for against West Ham.
"My guess is he's going to take it very seriously," Donovan said. "He usually does. He knows that this league is better than people give it credit for, especially in England."
Beckham's teammates are just as eager to prove their league's superiority.
"You want to show how good the players are in this league and how good the standard is," said Toronto FC defender Jim Brennan, the lone All-Star representative for the host team.
Knee and ankle injuries limited Beckham to just five league games for the Galaxy last season. He's scored five goals in 11 league appearances this season, and believes the standard of play has been improving.
"It's a higher level than everyone thinks," Beckham said. "I realized that when I came here, because I had a lot of time, especially last season, to just sit and watch the games. Especially this year, the level of play has gone up."
Notes: In his annual address, MLS commissioner Don Garber repeated the league's desire to expand from 14 to 18 teams by 2012. Seattle and Philadelphia have already been approved, and St. Louis, which Garber called "one of the birthplaces of soccer in America," is thought to be favored for an expansion team. "There's a lot of support there and we've got to be successful in the Midwest," Garber said. Other candidates include Atlanta, Las Vegas, Miami, Montreal, New York, Ottawa, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press