Ankle Is 'Looking Up' But Beckham Uncertain

David Beckham
"If it's not right, it's not right. It's one of these injuries that it has to be right for me to play," David Beckham said during a news conference in Washington on Tuesday. (Nikki Kahn - The Washington Post)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007

If you take David Beckham at his word, there is an outside chance that he will play for the Los Angeles Galaxy tonight against D.C. United at sold-out RFK Stadium. The English megastar practiced for the second consecutive day -- albeit lightly -- and told a large gathering of reporters packed inside a baseball batting cage deep inside the ballpark that the left ankle injury that has prevented him from playing in an official MLS match "is looking up. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

But then there is the stark reality that he has not played since a 16-minute effort against English club Chelsea in an exhibition nearly three weeks ago and that a hard challenge or a misstep could sideline him for weeks, if not months.

Said teammate Landon Donovan: "He hasn't been in any drills. He has come out and done some kicking, crossing, but he hasn't really run and cut and done anything game-like. I can't imagine he'd play, but you never know. If there is a chance late to get him in if we need it, I think Becks will do it."

With the public losing patience and the struggling Galaxy needing his famed free kicks and crosses, Bend It Like Beckham has become a case of Mend It Like Beckham.

"The ultimate decision will come down to David," said Los Angeles Coach Frank Yallop, a former United assistant. "We're not going to put him out there to re-injure it. We'll put him out there when he's fit and ready to go. He's getting close."

The Galaxy closed Tuesday's practice at the RFK training grounds and did not open yesterday's workout inside the stadium until it had completed its meaningful work. When reporters were allowed to watch, Beckham could be seen leisurely knocking the ball about with teammates in the boiling heat, jogging on the edges of the field and stretching. At the end of the session, he removed his shoe and allowed the team's medical staff to examine his taped ankle.

Earlier, during a question-and-answer session, Beckham discussed his frustration with the injury, the pressure to play, his excitement about visiting Washington for the first time and, in a surprising turn at the end of the 14-minute news conference, his deep aversion for the artificial turf used in four MLS stadiums.

The primary focus, though, was on his availability for tonight's match, which will be shown on national TV and witnessed by approximately 45,000 spectators at RFK. It will be the biggest turnout for a United home game since a doubleheader with the U.S. national team six years ago.

"I still have some discomfort from certain parts of the play and certain parts of running, but overall it's still a frustrating time for myself," Beckham said. "If it's not right, it's not right. It's one of these injuries that it has to be right for me to play, it has to feel comfortable because I don't want to set myself back another five or six weeks just for 20 minutes on the field."

He also addressed mounting criticism of his prolonged absence, a situation that has left tens of thousands of ticket holders in places such as Washington, Boston and New York wondering if they will actually see him in action, instead of in an expensive suit and tie like Sunday in Toronto.

"There are going to be people that maybe don't understand, but it's a sports injury. I can't really apologize for being injured," said Beckham, who sprained his ankle while playing for England's national team in June, damaged ligaments in subsequent matches with Real Madrid and absorbed a fierce tackle in the Chelsea friendly that seemed to set him back.

Alexi Lalas, the Galaxy's outspoken president and general manager, echoed Beckham's comments, saying: "He's not a robot, he's a human being and he's susceptible to injury like any athlete. People bought tickets [Sunday in San Diego] to see Barry Bonds play. He didn't play. And they bought tickets specifically to see him make history.

"We're not naive. We know that people want to see [Beckham] play and we know that this stadium is sold out tomorrow, not because of the rivalry, but because of David Beckham. We want to get him on the field as soon as we possibly can without risking further injury. Nobody wants to be on the field more than he does."

Beckham said his chances of playing are enhanced by RFK's grass surface. Sunday in Toronto, he watched from the bench while the game was played on artificial turf, a surface that most players loathe because of the wear and tear it has on the body.

"You can't play a game like soccer on that sort of field," he said. "What it does to your body as a soccer player, you are in bits for two or three days after that. . . . Every game, every team should have grass, without a doubt."

Grass or turf, home or away, the Galaxy and MLS are just eager to get Beckham on the field -- soon.

"Hopefully I will play some part of it," he said of tonight's match. "We're not sure yet."

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