Waiting on Becks

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For the more than 45,000 fans expected at RFK Stadium for tonight’s game between D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy, the question is, “Will David Beckham play?”

The unsatisfying answer from the chic British soccer star: “We’ll see.” Photo Gallery

In his first appearance before local media yesterday, Beckham said he is still nursing a bum left ankle that kept him out of his first official MLS game against Toronto FC on Sunday. But he refused to rule out playing against United in a game with playoff implications for both teams.

Officially, Beckham will not start and is listed as doubtful for the game. But he hinted yesterday he could play for a short time in the second half, as he did during his first appearance in an exhibition against Chelsea on July 21.

Beckham had a 20 minute workout Tuesday and tested the ankle during another brief outing in brutal heat at RFK Stadium yesterday. He was not expected to decide on his status until just before tonight’s game.

“If it’s not right, it’s not right,” Beckham said of his ankle. “It’s one of those injuries where it has to feel right for me to play, it has to feel comfortable because I don’t want to set myself back another five or six weeks just for 20 minutes on the field.”

Galaxy coach Frank Yallop said he was pleased to see Beckham working on the ankle. He said he will let Beckham decide when he’s ready to enter a game.

“The ultimate decision will come down to David,” Yallop said. “The last thing we want is for him to re-injure it. We’ll send him out when he’s good and ready.”

At the very least, Beckham said he was pleased the game will be played on grass at RFK Stadium, as opposed to the artificial surface used in Toronto. Many players have complained that playing on turf makes them more susceptible to injury.

“I think it’s a huge factor that it’s on grass instead of FieldTurf,” Beckham said. “On FieldTurf, playing with my ankle [and] the way it’s not right at the moment would be dangerous.”

Beckham’s arrival to the United States in July was resplendent with Hollywood, but it hardly has been a cinematic MLS debut for the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star. His brief game appearance in the Chelsea friendly has been his only one. He warmed the bench against Toronto wearing a Hugo Boss suit and sat out a SuperLiga tournament game against FC Dallas on July 31. The nagging ankle injury has left teams scrambling to remind fans that a purchased ticket does not represent a guaranteed Beckham sighting.

“People here know from other sports that players get injured,” said Cesar Velasco, a spokesman for FC Toronto. “If he’s injured, he’s injured. We did not receive any comments or complaints from fans. It would have been great for them to have Beckham on the field, but there was no disappointment.”

Beckham brushed aside suggestions that he and the Galaxy were not up front about the severity of his injury.

“This is an injury that everybody knew about when I first I arrived,” Beckham said. “Obviously, there may be some people who bought tickets who have been upset. But I can’t really apologize for being injured. … It’s frustrating for myself. I’m doing everything possible to get fit and that’s all I can really say.”

Buzz over the game has led to a sellout of RFK Stadium, likely giving MLS its largest crowd of the year. Overall, attendance at MLS games has increased from about 14,500 a game at this point last year to just more than 14,900, though it’s impossible to know whether that rise is the result of Beckham’s arrival.

“I think a lot of people feel sort of sorry for David,” United spokesman Doug Hicks said. “There was so much buzz when he arrived and we know he wants to be out there performing at a high level. But whether David Beckham plays or not, [tonight’s] game will be a prime event.”

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