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Party's over for Beckham

The celebrity athlete, signed to inject new life into U.S. soccer, sprains his knee. He's probably done for the season.

August 31, 2007|Grahame L. Jones and Jaime Cardenas | Times Staff Writers

The curtain has come down early on the first act of the David Beckham show.

The English superstar, brought to Major League Soccer in July to inject new life into the league and soccer in the U.S., is done for the season. Beckham suffered a sprained right knee and will be sidelined for "approximately six weeks," the Los Angeles Galaxy said Thursday night.

It means that Beckham's first MLS season is essentially over, after playing only 310 minutes in six games at a guaranteed salary of $6.5 million a year.

His arrival in Los Angeles, with his wife, Victoria, the former Spice Girls singer, triggered vast publicity, partly because of Beckham's reputation as a world-class athlete, but also because of the hype that surrounds the celebrity couple. Beckham's first Galaxy game was attended by his friend Tom Cruise and televised nationally by ESPN, and he drew 66,237 fans this month to a Galaxy match in New Jersey.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, September 01, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Beckham injury: In Friday's Section A, a caption with an article about soccer star David Beckham spraining his knee said the photo showed the play in which Beckham suffered the injury. He was hurt in the next play.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, September 04, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Soccer: An article in Friday's Sports section said that Tom Cruise attended David Beckham's first Galaxy game. The actor did not attend because he was out of the country working on a new film. Cruise's wife, Katie Holmes, and their daughter did attend.

Soccer merchandise and tickets have been sold in record numbers, not only here but in every MLS city, based on Beckham playing.

Beckham underwent an MRI scan to determine how much damage was done to his knee when he sprained his medial collateral ligament from a tackle during Wednesday night's loss to Pachuca of Mexico in a match at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

Los Angeles plays eight MLS games in September and four more in October, but it appears unlikely that Beckham will return to take part in what by then will be the meaningless last two or three Galaxy matches. He also will miss the England national team's crucial two Euro 2008 qualifying games against Israel and Russia in London next month and possibly two more in October.

"At the moment it doesn't feel great," Beckham said of his right knee Wednesday night, although he just as easily could have been talking about his injured left ankle.

Beckham reported to the Galaxy with a swollen left ankle he hurt in his final game with his former team Real Madrid, causing him to miss seven of his first 13 games with the Galaxy.

"It's just gone from one thing to another thing. Maybe it's time for me to just say I need the rest and get it right and don't come back until it's right," he said.

Now that Beckham is sidelined, the ramifications extend far and wide.

Planned exhibition matches with Beckham and the Galaxy have been scheduled in Canada and Australia. In Vancouver, 45,000 tickets have been sold for an Oct. 3 exhibition and the opening page on the Vancouver Whitecaps' website includes the message "Beckham is coming" and a countdown clock clicking off the days, hours, minutes and seconds until he arrives.

"Obviously, Beckham needs to play," said Bob Lenarduzzi, a former Canadian international player and now the Whitecaps' president. "If he can't play on Oct. 3, we have to find another date. If it ends that we can't reschedule, we would look" at refunding fans the cost of the tickets. "We'll do the right thing."

In MLS, meanwhile, clubs maintain that there will be no refunds if Beckham can't play.

"Not only would it be rare, it would be unprecedented," said John Koluder, a spokesman for the MLS club Real Salt Lake. "We have no plans to go that route. Unfortunately, there is nothing that fans who bought tickets for those games can do. We cannot guarantee that David Beckham. . . will play on that day. That's the chance the fans take."

The Galaxy plays at Salt Lake City on Sept. 19 and the game is close to being sold out.

"People will be disappointed, no doubt about it," said Oliver Luck, president of the defending MLS champion Houston Dynamo, which hosts the Galaxy on Oct. 7 in another sold-out match.

Beckham's MLS contract calls for him to get extra money from various endorsement deals that reportedly could push the total value of his five-year deal to $250 million.

Since Beckham's arrival, soccer merchandise sales have skyrocketed by 300% league-wide and by 700% for the Galaxy and already the team's white or blue jerseys with Beckham's name and his number 23 have become fashionable in Los Angeles.

It is hard to know if sales will taper off, but chances are there will be some negative effect as disappointed fans face the prospect of not seeing Beckham and instead getting an injury-decimated Galaxy team whose 3-10-5 record is the worst in MLS.

Beckham's injury "takes everything, the whole wind out of its sails," said Trevor Drissel, 36, a computer technician, who was shopping Thursday at a Sports Authority store in Cerritos heavily stocked with Beckham gear. "The Galaxy is making up $250 million, or whatever they paid him, back in endorsements. So they made their money back. It's their fans that are getting hurt" by his absence.

Within the Galaxy, meanwhile, Beckham's notoriety brought extra pressure to the team. Alexi Lalas, the Galaxy's president and general manager, has lashed out at the "ridiculous" schedule imposed on his team by MLS although he signed off on that schedule when it was announced after Beckham's signing.

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