WASHINGTON -- David Beckham dribbled, juggled and passed the ball during a Los Angeles Galaxy practice on a stiflingly hot afternoon at RFK Stadium, offering at least some hope that the 45,000 people who have bought tickets for Thursday's game will actually get to see him play.
"It's looking up," Beckham said Wednesday. "I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully I'll get out there playing soon."
Thursday would be a good time to start, given the sellout crowd that has been anticipating the Galaxy's game against D.C. United, but Beckham's tender left ankle will have the last word. The English star who elevated MLS' profile to new heights simply by signing a contract still hasn't played a MLS game, a frustration compounded by the fact that he knows the fans have been let down.
"There's obviously going to be people who maybe don't understand, but it's a sports injury," Beckham said at a news conference that had to be held in one of the stadium's baseball batting cages to accommodate the media throng.
"I can't really apologize for being injured because that's just the way of life in any sportsman's career. It's frustrating for myself to not be out there on the pitch, probably more frustrating than for the people to wait for me to step onto the pitch. I'm doing everything possible to get fit, and that's all I can say."
If Beckham plays on Thursday, it will not be for long. He spoke of getting perhaps 10 or 20 minutes as a substitute, depending on how his ankle feels after his limited participation in two days of practice.
"If it's not right, it's not right," Beckham said. "It's one of those injuries that has to be right for me to play because I don't want to set myself back another five or six weeks just for 20 minutes on the field."
Beckham sprained his ankle while playing for England in June and aggravated the injury in a game with Real Madrid later that month. He made a 16-minute appearance in an exhibition game against English club Chelsea shortly after joining the Galaxy in July and has since missed all three of Los Angeles' SuperLiga games as well as Sunday's scoreless draw at Toronto.
Coach Frank Yallop said the opportune setting for a MLS debut -- a full house in the nation's capital -- would not influence whether Beckham plays.
"We're not going to put him out there to re-injure it," Yallop said. "We'll put him out there when he's fit and ready to go. He's getting close. We won't force him."
Beckham's health is also of concern to England coach Steve McClaren, who is preparing for an exhibition game against Germany on Aug. 22 and European Championship qualifiers against Israel on Sept. 8 and Russia four days later. United has been alerted that McClaren might attend Thursday's game, but Beckham said he spoke to the coach this week and got the impression the trip would be worth it only if he were starting.
"Whether it's worth him coming to see me for 10 minutes, I'm not so sure," Beckham said.
While Beckham was unsure about his playing status, he had a strong message for MLS: Ditch the artificial turf.
Beckham said he's noticed some things that are "not right" about MLS, and foremost in his mind was the fake grass used at four MLS stadiums. He said the fact that RFK Stadium has the real thing -- unlike Toronto and New England, where the Galaxy play Sunday -- will be a "huge factor" in whether he will play.
"As a professional athlete, you can't play a game like soccer on that sort of field," Beckham said. "What it does to your body as a soccer player, you're in bits for three days after that."