D.C. Rains on Beckham's Parade

David Beckham
In a downpour that made the RFK Stadium field resemble a soggy ground back in England, David Beckham played the final 21 minutes in the Galaxy's loss. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2007

David Beckham removed his warmup jacket, drawing screeches from the sellout crowd at RFK Stadium. He stripped off his undershirt, which brought more joyous cries, and pulled on the No. 23 Los Angeles Galaxy jersey.

A moment later, 19-year-old teammate Quavas Kirk was summoned to the bench.

His night was over. Beckham's long-awaited MLS debut had arrived.

The English superstar, whose first appearance in a league match had been delayed by an ankle injury, entered in the 72nd minute and provided a couple of his trademark passes in a losing cause, a 1-0 defeat to D.C. United before 46,686 spectators, including England Manager Steve McClaren.

Luciano Emilio was the difference for United (9-6-3), scoring from 25 yards in the 27th minute, but the evening belonged to the fashionable midfielder, whose signing with 11-year-old MLS last winter sent shockwaves through the international soccer establishment. Beckham had made a token appearance in an exhibition three weeks ago, but his tender ankle sidelined him for three tournament matches and an MLS game in Toronto last weekend.

His arrival in Washington renewed speculation about when he would actually play. The first positive sign last night was his inclusion on the active roster. The second indication came when he loosened up on the sideline during the first half. And despite torrential rain -- "it was just the biggest raindrops I've ever seen," he said -- and a slick field, he entered the match to the roaring approval of the crowd.

"It's great to be out there because it's not nice to disappoint people, it's not nice to disappoint people that paid a lot of money to come and see the game," he said. "I was thankful to actually get on the pitch. It was a good night, but also a bad night because we ended up losing the game."

A right-side midfielder most of his career, Beckham played a central role last night. After a few touches, he delivered his first long ball, a nicely placed offering that United goalkeeper Troy Perkins caught without a challenge.

Beckham's first free kick came in the 85th and was headed high and wide by Carlos Pavon. Later, he sent a splendid long ball that Perkins met an instant before Landon Donovan at the top of the box. The Galaxy begged for a penalty kick, but referee Jair Marrufo let play continue.

Galaxy Coach Frank Yallop said he did not hesitate calling on Beckham. "We're trying to get him some time on the field and it was the opportune time to do it, really," he said. "We wanted to change things, we needed to get a goal."

Despite the injury, Beckham did not hold back, challenging United players for the ball and serving passes into dangerous spots.

"I give him a lot of credit for playing because I know he's not 100 percent," United midfielder Ben Olsen said. "He knew a lot of people were here to watch him and he gritted it out and played."

Before Beckham's entrance, United was the recipient of the crowd's appreciation. D.C. dictated pace and possession from the opening whistle. The only missing element was a goal.

United finally capitalized when Emilio struck for his third goal in two matches and his league-leading 13th overall. Marc Burch, a revelation at left back this summer, slipped a pass through to Emilio, who made one touch and ripped a rising shot with vigor and velocity.

Goalkeeper Joe Cannon got both hands on the ball and probably should have pushed it aside, but because it was struck with such force, he was only able to slow it down.

"The coaching staff told us to shoot it from anywhere on the field and if we had an opportunity to shoot on goal, we should do so," Emilio said through an interpreter.

United continued to dictate play, but without a second goal the result remained very much in doubt. Donovan narrowly missed wide early in the second half. United pressed for a clinching goal, only to see Jaime Moreno's 23-yard bid skip barely wide of the left post and Emilio's curling attempt bend around the right post.

The Galaxy (3-6-5) was left shorthanded in the 67th minute when Kyle Martino was ejected for a dangerous tackle from behind.

Then it was Beckham's time.

The reception he received was like nothing at a United game since perhaps Freddy Adu's debut three years ago, but that was with about 20,000 fewer fans.

"It was deafening," Perkins said. "That was a little overwhelming. I'm still shocked -- all that for one person, but it's good to get all these people out" to a game.

Although Beckham did not threaten to tie the match himself, his teammates did. Pavon's glancing header off Chris Klein's cross narrowly missed and Edson Buddle had two opportunities in the box.

United, though, kept its composure to register its second straight shutout victory, ensuring that Beckham would be on the losing end in his MLS debut.

Nonetheless, "It's a big forward step for me tonight, getting 20 minutes," he said. "I was happy with that."

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