- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2006

Four years ago, English star David Beckham broke a bone in his foot just seven weeks before the World Cup in Asia. For weeks, his health was front-page news, politicians lamented his plight and the nation got a thorough education on the bony issue of metatarsals. Beckham recovered in time to play in the finals, but he wasn’t fully fit and it showed.

Alas, now the birthplace of soccer is once again fretting over a broken foot. Last week Wayne Rooney fractured multiple bones in the fourth metatarsal of his right foot. With the World Cup less than five weeks away, Rooney’s situation looks bleak.

Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, who will name his provisional roster Monday, says that if there’s the slightest chance of Rooney playing, he will take the 20-year-old sensation to the World Cup. But it will be a miracle if Rooney gets to see any action.

England without Rooney is like Brazil without Ronaldinho, France without Thierry Henry, Ghana without Michael Essien, Ivory Coast without Didier Drogba, Ukraine without Andrei Shevchenko and the United States without Landon Donovan. These players are the engines of their teams.

With Rooney, England has a chance of reaching at least the semifinals. Without him, England is an outsider. Since Rooney’s injury, odds on England’s winning the final have dropped from 13-2 to 10-1.

Beckham was good, and England needed him in 2002 for his majestic crosses and his talent for striking a dead ball. Now Rooney is considered one of the giants of the sport. He has the speed, the talent and the confidence, reads the game well and possesses the instincts of a great player. He is also a fierce competitor.

Rooney suffered a similar injury at the 2004 European Championship in Portugal, when he scored four goals in two games. He broke his fifth metatarsal and returned to action 14 weeks later. Still, if anyone has the passion and ability to speed up their recovery it may be the kid from Liverpool’s tough streets, who is sometimes called “El Pele Blanco” — the white Pele.

“You’ve just got to get on with it and be positive,” Rooney told Manchester United TV.

The English team has been plagued by injuries. Michael Owen, Rooney’s strike partner, is struggling to recover from a broken fifth metatarsal, and midfielder Ledley King could miss the finals with another metatarsal injury.

Why the sudden plague of broken metatarsals? Some say it’s because players wear such light cleats these days. Others suggest the fields are so well drained now that the turf is too firm and doesn’t cushion as much as the old muddy pitches once did. Some observers believe the players just compete in too many games. Rooney has played 54 competitive games since Aug. 9.

Rooney’s injury is a blow for all fans and takes a little shine off the World Cup, but he’s not the only player in a race against time to recover. Italy’s Francesco Totti, Argentina’s Lional Messi, Gabriel Heinze and Pablo Amir and the Czech Republic’s Jan Koller are just a few of the name players battling injuries.

MLS — D.C. United (3-0-2) plays the Colorado Rapids (1-2-1) in Denver today trying to extend its unbeaten streak to six games. This is the best opening in franchise history.

The game will be midfielder Ben Olsen’s last for the club in a while. Olsen will report to the U.S. World Cup camp in Cary, N.C., on Wednesday and will not return until the end of June. A possible replacement on the United roster, Clyde Simms, is out with a hamstring injury.

U.S. team notes — The average age of U.S. players going to Germany is 28.6, slightly younger than the 2002 team (28.8). The team is a little less experienced with players competing in an average of 44.2 games for the U.S. team compared to 55.1 in 2002. … With Chris Albright replacing injured Frankie Hejduk on the team, D.C. United has a connection to three players on the 23-man roster. lsen is an eight-year veteran with United, while defender Eddie Pope (1996-2002) and Albright (1999-2001) are former players.

The U.S. team’s World Cup Nike jerseys will resemble those worn by the U.S. squad that upset England 1-0 in the 1950 World Cup.

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