The Los Angeles Galaxy's Edson Buddle has been insisting throughout training camp that his troublesome Achilles tendons have been feeling better, and he proved it in the nightcap of Wednesday's Pan-Pacific Championship against Japan's Oita Trinita.
Buddle scored on a left-footed, 15-yard blast just before halftime to send the Galaxy on their way to a 2-0 victory. The Galaxy move into Saturday's championship against the K-League's Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC, a 1-0 winner over Shandong Luneng Taishan FC in an earlier game.
"That was a very well-taken goal," Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said, "and the finish was incredible."
Buddle, who scored 15 goals in 2008 -- second on the team behind Landon Donovan's 20 -- had his Achilles tendons worked on during the offseason to alleviate chronic tendonitis that has been bothering him for years, and he certainly looks quicker and stronger in preseason.
"So far I feel pretty good," he said. "The tendinitis is still there, but I've had it for so long it's going to take a while before it's completely healed. But at this stage, I'm happy with how it's progressing."
Buddle also was happy about the victory, the Galaxy's first in preseason. The club has gone through a number of personnel changes since last year -- they still are missing David Beckham and Landon Donovan, currently overseas on loans -- and it has been a painstaking process trying to get all of the new parts to fit together.
If that means the 27-year-old Buddle has to take on more of a leadership role to smooth that process, that's OK with him.
"Bruce says he wants 11 leaders on the field and 24 leaders on the team," Buddle said. "It's very important for myself at this stage of my career to show some leadership and carry that over to my teammates."
Another MLS veteran trying to set an example is the Galaxy's Dema Kovalenko, who was brought in to shore up the midfield. He has a well-earned reputation as being a feisty, hard-nosed player, and he lived up that advance billing Wednesday. He had a minor shoving match with Oita Trinita captain Daiki Takamatsu and also had a few words with Oita Trinita coach Pericles Chamusca during the second half.
Chamusca and Kovalenko later insisted the exchange was more of "heat of the battle" type of thing.
"It looked like he was wasting time, and I was making a case to him to get the game going," Chamusca said through an interpreter. "I noticed he carries a little agression, too. But it's just part of the game."
Kovalenko laughed about it after the game.
"He said something to me, and I said, 'Look at the scoreboard," he said about the exchange that occurred with the Galaxy leading 2-0. "I said, 'What are you talking about?' If he says I was wasting time, that's fine. I think if we were down 2-0, they'd be doing the same thing.
"Sometimes I might not do the right thing, but I do whatever it takes to win. I bring a little bit of intensity, a little bit of fire. People who know me around the league know every time I step on the field I want to win. That's just what I do."