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Monday, October 22, 2007
End it like Beckham: a season cut short by injury

LOS ANGELES -- He made his entrance amid showers of confetti and plumes of smoke. He played in just five league games and scored no goals. And now David Beckham's season is over, cut short by knee and ankle injuries almost as soon as it began.

"I never had so many injuries in a short space of time," he said. "It's been tough, where I used to play every day in Europe to missing half of the season."

Beckham, as promised, packed the house when he did play. And the English superstar moved the merchandise, a one-man marketing machine.

As for his team, well, that's another matter. The Los Angeles Galaxy failed to make the playoffs but almost got there without their superstar, eliminated on the final day of a season in which Beckham caused a stir just by showing up.

"It's been a wild ride," goalkeeper Joe Cannon said.

The Galaxy's seven-game unbeaten streak ended Sunday with a 1-0 loss at Chicago that cost the team the league's final playoff spot. Beckham played in only one of those games. Their 9-14-7 record was third worst in MLS.

But at least Chicago fans got to see Beckham, who came off the bench in the Galaxy's final two games. Fans in Dallas, Toronto, New England, Colorado, Salt Lake City and Kansas City who bought tickets just to check out the English superstar were denied the opportunity because he was injured.

Beckham's impact at the gate was tremendous. He drew 66,237 to Giants Stadium for his first MLS start. The Galaxy led the league in road attendance, averaging 28,035 for 15 games.

At home, the team averaged 24,252 for 15 games in its 27,000-seat stadium, bettering by 48 the mark set in 2005, even though Beckham didn't arrive until mid-July.

Beckham's No. 23 jersey flew off the racks at a dizzying pace, pushing merchandise sales up 700 percent for the Galaxy and 300 percent leaguewide, according to MLS.

"We've created the buzz we wanted to around the league. We've had a full house in most of the stadiums we've played in," Beckham said. "From that part it's been a success, but on my side it's been frustrating because I've not been able to go every place we've played."

Beckham was introduced to a media horde July 13, although he was already hobbled by an ankle injury while playing for England in June.

Beckham later admitted his left ankle wasn't ready when he made his July 21 debut in an exhibition against Chelsea attended by a star-studded sellout crowd of 27,000 and shown live on ESPN.

"You can't really prepare for somebody like David coming to your team," midfielder Peter Vagenas said. "I'd be lying to you if to say that I didn't think people struggled with it. But David is a great person, a great teammate, and that makes it easy on everybody."

Then Beckham sprained his right knee Aug. 29 and was out for 1½ months -- a span of 11 games -- that killed the hype.

As the league's highest-paid player, Beckham earned $6.5 million in guaranteed money, including a $5.5 million base salary. He played in just five MLS games, totaling 252 minutes out of a possible 1,620. He had no goals and two assists.

In a goodwill gesture, the Galaxy gave full season-ticket holders the chance to renew for next season at this year's prices.

"The results ... have not been what our fans expect or deserve, but there is much to be excited about for 2008 and beyond," Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas said.

The Galaxy had a rash of other injuries, too, and their schedule was backloaded with league games to capitalize on Beckham.

"The schedule, the injuries, the hype, the media just compounded each other," Cannon said. "People really don't realize how difficult the situation was. We were lacking bodies. It was sometimes embarrassing."

But Beckham endeared himself to his teammates.

"When he got here, he was the first one to say that he was about the soccer," Vagenas said. "You questioned it a bit maybe, but you could see it in his performance and in the way he takes care of himself, the way he trains and goes about his business. Everything else may be a distraction to him but he really doesn't show that it is."

Now, Beckham will be off most Americans' radar until April, when MLS resumes.

"I'm not going to know what do with myself," he said. "I'll be keeping in training and keeping fit no matter what."

Beckham won't be sitting around his Beverly Hills mansion. He hopes to play for England against Croatia on Nov. 21 in London -- England's final chance at qualifying for next year's European championships.

Also, the Galaxy is scheduled to play an exhibition in Sydney, Australia, on Nov. 27, followed by another game days later in New Zealand.

And Beckham figures to be spotted on the Spice Girls reunion tour that begins in December, accompanying wife Victoria, aka Posh Spice.




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