CHICAGO -- In their quest to qualify for the MLS postseason, the Los Angeles Galaxy have been running on fumes for the past seven weeks. The question now is will the return of midfielder David Beckham provide them with sufficient oxygen to get over the finish line?
"I've worked harder than I've worked in a long time to get my fitness right, to get my fitness to the level where when I did come back, I would be ready," said Beckham.
Beckham's efforts didn't stop him from showing some understandable rust against the Red Bulls. His passing and movement weren't sharp, and it almost appeared as if Beckham, in a futile quest to make up for lost time, was trying too hard.
The same could be said about the entire team, as if the pressure of playing must-win games every week finally got to the Galaxy. The result of Thursday's draw is that Los Angeles no longer controls its playoff fate, and must now depend on other results in order to qualify for the postseason.
But whether Sunday's match against the Chicago Fire has playoff implications for the Galaxy or not, coach Frank Yallop indicated at Saturday's news conference that his approach regarding Beckham will remain the same. Beckham, "definitely won't start," said Yallop, and the timing of Beckham's insertion into the game will likely depend on how the match progresses.
"We want to get Beckham some playing time ... he feels that he's ready to play football now," said Yallop.
Yallop's decision to start Beckham on the bench makes sense given how the team has performed over the last few weeks, as well as Beckham's comments about how he felt following Thursday's match.
"Physically, it was a little bit tough," Beckham said of his first match back. "After 25 minutes I felt a little bit tired after the game, which is amazing. But I'm starting to feel a bit better now. We had training [on Saturday] which went well. It loosened not just me up, but the rest of the lads up after the flight on [Friday]."
If the match does end up meaning something, it will amount to another pressure-packed game for L.A., and Beckham's big-game experience will come in handy. Beckham admitted that he is one of those players who loves rather than loathes the big occasion.
"I never get nervous before games," Beckham said. "Soccer is what I love doing, what I enjoy doing, and it's what I feel safest doing. So I never get nervous before big games. But we all know it's a big game, and if the results don't go to our liking [Saturday], we'll be going for the game no matter what."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.