New All White Dan Keat says David Beckham (pic) is a
New All White Dan Keat says David Beckham (pic) is a "really nice guy and a great professional". Getty Sport Images - Robert Cianflone

A starry start for Keat

WHEN Dan Keat turned up for his first day at LA Galaxy, he discovered his locker was right next to a certain David Beckham's.

It was an immediate reminder, if he needed one, he was at the most glamorous club in America's Major League Soccer. They have the biggest chequebook, one of the biggest followings and easily the biggest names with Beckham, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Juninho headlining the playing roster.

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Keat says Beckham is a "really nice guy and a great professional" but he's not yet been round for dinner with Posh and Becks.

"My locker is right next to David's so that was kind of a bizarre experience to see Dan Keat right next to David Beckham after being a huge Manchester United fan as a kid," he said. "I learned pretty quickly he's a great professional and I try to glean different things off him when I can. It's an awesome situation to be in."

Keat is by no means awestruck by the biggest star at the Galaxy. The Ivy League graduate and former captain of the New Zealand side that played at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup is well grounded but also confident he can play at the highest level.

His experiences at the Galaxy will mean Keat is unlikely to feel out of place alongside the likes of Ryan Nelsen and Shane Smeltz when he assembles in Auckland for the friendly international with Jamaica at Mt Smart Stadium on February 29.

Keat was the only newcomer in the 18-man squad announced yesterday by coach Ricki Herbert that was also notable for the exclusion of striker Rory Fallon.

Herbert has had Keat on his radar for some time and wants to see him first-hand. He comes in for veteran midfielder Simon Elliott who is missing due to a hernia complaint but unlikely to have been selected anyway.

"It's a chance for us to look at what Dan can do," Herbert said. "We already know what Simon can do.

"Dan's an exciting player and he will be hungry and keen. He's a good passer and is very good technically. It's not make-or-break for him but it's a chance for him to stamp his mark on this side."

Elliott remains in the background and is part of the wider squad but the 37-year-old has a limited future in the All Whites. Keat and Michael McGlinchey loom as the most likely successors and Keat is very much in Elliott's mold.

The pair are also friends, with Elliott's Chivas USA side sharing training facilities with Los Angeles.

"Simon and I get along really well and he's been invaluable for me in my first year of my [professional] career," Keat said. "I'm sure he will continue to be.

"I don't think he's given up [playing for New Zealand] just yet and has a bit left in him. He's a great professional and that showed with his performances at the World Cup. I will try to model my game at the international level on him if that's what is asked of me. I could do far worse than try to emulate Simon."

Keat made five MLS appearances for the Galaxy last season, when a fractured heal interrupted his season, but also played pre-season games against the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid.

He's realistic enough to know he's likely to play a role off the bench in the upcoming MLS season but wants to become a regular starter.

"It's just a matter of getting an opportunity and taking it ... it's a little bit like this opportunity with the All Whites," he said.

One who won't get an opportunity against Jamaica is striker Rory Fallon. With a host of striking options, Herbert wanted to give youngster Chris Wood a chance to lead the line and he also has Smeltz, Chris Killen and Kosta Barbarouses at his disposal.

"Rory is still a key part of the squad," Herbert said. "I wasn't going to bring five strikers along and wanted to give Chris Wood a start."

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