- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

David Beckham put his injured ankle behind him and finally made his MLS debut last night, coming off the bench in the 72nd minute to a giant roar from a crowd of 46,686 and hundreds of flashing cameras at RFK Stadium.

“It was a great reaction for me and I feel honored,” Beckham said. “I was so happy to get out there on the pitch and kick a soccer ball around for 20 minutes. … It was great atmosphere out there in front of 45,000. That’s what the sport needs.”
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However, the Englishman did little to help the struggling Los Angeles Galaxy, which lost 1-0 to D.C. United.

Beckham admitted that his left ankle was still a problem.

“There’s tenderness there,” Beckham said. “There was hesitation because I haven’t played or trained for eight weeks on the field, so tonight was the first time I’ve done anything competitive. I was happy to be out there and finally get 20 minutes in my first game. … There will be a reaction [from the ankle] tomorrow, but it was a big forward step for me tonight.”

As soon as Beckham entered the field he was in the action, putting in a tough tackle.

It took four minutes before Beckham made one of his famous long passes, but the effort was canceled out by United goalie Troy Perkins.

“There’s a lot more to come from David and the team, and it was a big step for us tonight,” Galaxy coach Frank Yallop said.

Beckham took his first free kick in MLS in the 83rd minute. From 40 yards out, he curled the ball into the penalty box and it found Galaxy striker Carlos Pavon, but the Honduran ace headed it over the bar.

Before last night, Beckham had played only 16 minutes in an exhibition game against Chelsea on July 21. He sat out the next four games with an injured left ankle, disappointing ticket buyers in a number of cities.

Beckham injured his ankle on June 6 while making his comeback for England in a Euro 2006 qualifier and then aggravated it June 17 in his final game for Real Madrid as the Spanish club claimed its first league title in four years.

Beckham arrived at RFK 90 minutes before last night’s game flanked by two security guards and followed by his Galaxy teammates, who wore identical black suits.

It first appeared unlikely that Beckham would play when he did not take part in the pre-game warmup. But then the most recognizable man in soccer walked onto the field dressed for the match to cheers and some boos. He was immediately surrounded by more than 25 photographers as he took his seat on the bench next to Cobi Jones. United’s hardcore fans welcomed Beckham, who is married to Victoria Beckham of the Spice Girls, with a large banner that read “Good Riddance” and “We Sing Better Than Your Wife.”

While Beckham sat on the bench there was plenty of action on the field. In the 27th minute United’s Luciano Emilio scored a stunning goal from 25 yards out. Galaxy goalie Joe Cannon got his hands on the ball, but the shot was much too powerful. Emilio notched his league-leading 13th goal of the season.

Then in the 37th minute there was roar from the crowd as Beckham started to warm up along the sidelines.

Yallop sent on his first substitute, striker Edson Buddle, in the 62nd minute as the rain became heavier.

Then the Galaxy had a player ejected, but there was still no sign of the man everyone had come to see.

Finally, at the 72 minute-mark, the 32-year-old Beckham came on, replacing Quavas Kirk as he was welcomed by a huge roar from the crowd.

“I definitely heard the crowd when he came on,” United defender Bryan Namoff said. “That was definitely the loudest it’s been since I’ve been here. Any time Beckham can get 45,000 fans cheering for it, I’ll take it.”

United drew about 24,000 when it played host to the Galaxy and American star Landon Donovan last season. So 22,000 more tickets, priced at $26 and up, were sold to fans seeking a glimpse of the Beckham known for his famous free kicks and curling crosses.

“I think Beckham played well,” United midfielder Josh Gros said. “You can’t expect him to perform miracles. His team was down a man and down a goal. There was not much he could do.”

It was the biggest crowd at RFK to see a soccer game since 54,000 attended a doubleheader in 2001 before the venue was downsized to accommodate baseball. United issued 325 press credentials for last night’s game — more than when Freddy Adu made his debut at RFK in 2004.

Some fans, however, may have been disappointed not to see more of Beckham.

“This is not like going to a live concert or a movie,” said United co-owner Will Chang, who is also a part-owner of the San Francisco Giants. “Injuries are part of this, and the fans have to understand that David said he’s going to be here for five years. This won’t be the only time they will have to see him.”



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