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Aug 5, 2007

Beckham's ongoing injury leads to more questions

As the interminable wait continues on soccer's most recalcitrant ankle, the list of questions continues to expand on L'affair Beckham.

First and foremost of course, when will David Beckham play? He missed Sunday's match at BMO Field as Toronto and an offensively moribund Galaxy played out a 0-0 draw that was rescued somewhat by the fabulous fans in Ontario.

Beckham says he's running now, but only on straightaways. Cutting and turning isn't part of the rehabilitation prescription just yet, which certainly would seem to dampen the odds of a meaningful appearance in either of the Galaxy high-profile matches over the next seven days.

Los Angeles visits D.C. United on Thursday and New England on Sunday, and the Galaxy is now desperate for points in the MLS playoff chase. Wouldn't it be rather embarrassing if the "Jewel of Major League Soccer," as GM Alexi Lalas has proclaimed his side, can't access the eight-team postseason?

So, as the pressure escalates on everyone attached to the Galaxy efforts, here are some other questions to ponder:

First, does the wisdom of his appearance two weeks ago against Chelsea seem more and more wobbly? We may never know if the 12 minutes plus stoppage time set back his progress. But it's safe to say that it didn't help, especially given that potentially disastrous challenge in midfield with Steve Sidwell.

Beckham himself said this type of injury usually requires 6-7 weeks to heal. And as he sat at the news conference in Toronto on Saturday, on the eve of what would have been his first league match, Beckham noted that it had been 6½ weeks at that point.

What, then, was Beckham doing participating in the friendly two weeks back? While everyone can understand the player's desire to get on the field, what was the point of risking his presence in matches that matter for a brief run-about for the cameras against Chelsea?

Shouldn't someone at the club have been the voice of reason?

Beckham sat on the bench Sunday in one of those swell Hugo Boss suits, the one supplied by the glamorous designer not only to players, but to office personnel as well, during Sunday's draw in Toronto.

And why was that? He didn't travel to Dallas for last week's SuperLiga match because air travel doesn't help the swelling in his left ankle. If that was the case, why take him to Toronto? Why not allow him to continue rehabilitating in Los Angeles and then meet the team in D.C. or New England, thereby eliminating one or possibly two plane trips?

Here's another question everyone must begin pondering. How quickly can Beckham regain match fitness once he does resume training and playing? Clearly, a rudderless Galaxy offense needs him desperately. But there's another team watching with interest here.

If England manager Steve McLaren intends on calling Beckham into England's Aug. 22 friendly against Germany -- his appearance in that one already seems in doubt -- or the Euro 2008 qualifier on Sept. 8 against Israel, Beckham had better start swinging that right foot in matches soon.

And does anybody perhaps need to revisit this prickly, rare situation where an athlete remains under contract with one team but has already pledged his allegiance to another? Beckham still had about five months remaining on his deal with Real Madrid when he signed the contract that could pay as much as $250 million with Major League Soccer and the Galaxy.

Beckham first sprained his left ankle playing June 6 in a Euro 2008 qualifier. He played on the injured ankle in Real Madrid's final two matches of the 2006-07 campaign, even requiring injections for the finale. Playing at that time has caused the additional swelling, which is now proving so troublesome.

Another question on the table: Did the surface at BMO have any influence on Beckham's exclusion from the Galaxy's list of 18 available players Sunday? On this point, Lalas has been quite adamant. He said the surfaces will have no impact on Beckham "go or no go" choices.

That's good news, since Sunday's match began a string in which three of Los Angeles' next four league matches are to be played on artificial turf.

When it comes to logistics and scheduling right now, the L.A. Galaxy just can't catch a break. MLS has just four stadiums with artificial turf, and the Galaxy get to play at three of them over the next two weeks, traveling soon to New England and Red Bull New York.

Lalas says he isn't worried about additional chances of further injury on the artificial turf. The material used in FieldTurf and other modern brands is far superior to earlier versions of fake turf, he said. Studies have concluded that the frequency of injury is no different from real grass. Still, suffice to say, playing on the manufactured grass isn't going to help Beckham's ailing ankle -- assuming he's healthy enough to test the turf at all during the next two weeks.

Lalas knows that general recovery takes longer for players after performance on artificial turf. That's not ideal, but at this point the Galaxy appears to have little choice. Lalas maintains that if Beckham is healthy, he's going to play, regardless of the surface.

"And it's not just an appearance thing," Lalas said. "We need him on the field. We need him to help us win games. We need him to help the team."

Finally, should the wisdom of this jam-packed schedule be called into question? Lalas is now reminding everyone, including all the disappointed ticket buyers on the growing list of cities, that Beckham is signed for five years. There will be plenty of chances to see the man, he says.

Fair enough. But why, then, all the rush to cram and jam all these matches into a brutal no-man's land of debilitating travel and exhausting matches in the first place? The Galaxy, having just added to their taxing schedule with a SuperLiga semifinal, follow Sunday's match with contests on Aug. 9, Aug. 12, Aug. 15, Aug. 18, Aug. 23 and Aug. 26. Counting the match in Toronto, that's seven contests in 22 days in six cities.

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.