When David Beckham sprained his right knee in the SuperLiga final on Aug. 29, not only did his first season in MLS appear to be dead, but lying next to him in the MLS morgue were the Galaxy's playoff hopes. Yet just as the autopsy was set to begin, a Monty Python-like recovery took place for both player and team alike, meaning that not only is Beckham feeling a bit better, but he just might play in some games that mean something.
Yet amid this good news, Galaxy head coach Frank Yallop has the makings of a dilemma on his hands. Beckham returned to light training last Thursday, and although he sat out Friday's session with some soreness that Yallop characterized as "normal," Beckham has progressed to the point where he could play a part in the Galaxy's remaining games, beginning with this weekend's home match against Toronto.
Last week, Beckham told the Los Angeles Times that "I think I'll play before the end of the season. Even if we lose a game and are not able to make the playoffs, I'll still try to get one or two games in. I need to get back to playing."
Of course, a better question regarding Beckham's status is "Should he play?" rather than "Could he play?" Beckham's first months in MLS were a case study in how not to rehabilitate an injury, with the Englishman limping noticeably at times on a bum left ankle. Beckham later added that the pain he felt may have played a part in his subsequent knee injury, and at that point, shutting him down for the season seemed the prudent thing to do. The lesson in caution is one that Yallop has taken to heart.
"I am not going to put any dates or times on anything anymore, because I've been burned on that before," said Yallop in a telephone interview following Sunday's victory. "We're hoping, but we've got to see how [Beckham] reacts. I expect him to try and get in some sort of training in the middle of the week. If he doesn't, then he won't be available for the [Toronto game]. We just want to see and slowly gauge how he's doing."
Still, Yallop said he liked what he saw from Beckham in training last week. The Galaxy manager noted that with an MCL injury like Beckham's, striking the ball -- whether with power or finesse -- is the hardest skill to reclaim without discomfort, and it's a test that the midfielder passed. Now the trick is increasing Beckham's fitness, and then bringing him back at a time that is optimal for both him and the Galaxy. For that reason, Yallop will continue to proceed cautiously with Beckham, especially given the Englishman's willingness to play hurt, even when he shouldn't.
"[Beckham] is not going to just come in and start," Yallop said. "But let's hope we can get him some time ... during a game."
When asked if that meant Beckham would play before the end of the regular season, Yallop said, "I'd be surprised if he didn't."
As for the Galaxy's playoff hopes, some work remains to be done. The permutations are still endless, but a season ending play-in game against the Chicago Fire is looking like a distinct possibility, and the prospect of seeing Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco facing off in such a match is a marketer's dream. Running the table in the intervening games is practically a must for L.A., yet it's a task that Yallop feels is within his team's capabilities.
"I feel real good with this group at the moment," Yallop said. "They're focused, they're ready, they're hungry, and they're aggressive. That's good."
Getting a certain Englishman back healthy would be even better.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.