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David Beckham's injury could add twist to MLS final

SOCCER

The Galaxy midfielder is nursing a bone bruise as Los Angeles prepares to take on Real Salt Lake for the championship Sunday.

November 22, 2009|By Grahame L. Jones
  • David Beckham said he might have to take painkillers in order to play today.
David Beckham said he might have to take painkillers in order to play today. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

Reporting from Seattle — David Beckham was standing at his Galaxy locker, the one with the color photograph of him and his three sons in Real Madrid uniform, and he was being adamant.

"It's always nice to prove people wrong," he said. "That never gets old, I must admit.

"But it's not over yet. We've won this part of it [Major League Soccer's Western Conference title], but there's still another part to win. As satisfying as it is to quiet a few people, it's not over yet."

Sometime this evening, it will be over. The final whistle of MLS Cup 2009 will have sounded a Qwest Field in Seattle and Beckham, at age 34, will or will not have added an American championship to the titles he won in England with Manchester United and in Spain with Real Madrid.

If he does so, it will be doubly satisfying for the English midfielder, who was ridiculed in Europe for his 2007 move to MLS and heavily criticized in his first two seasons here by fans and the media for his perceived lack of commitment and on-field impact.

All that could change in just 90 minutes.

The Galaxy, MLS champion in 2002 and 2005, is favored to defeat Real Salt Lake in the 5:30 p.m. match (on ESPN and Galavision), if only because of its pedigree and the fact that it has Beckham and Landon Donovan in its lineup.

But Beckham is nursing a bone bruise in his right foot, probably will have to play on painkillers, will be wary of the rain-slickened artificial surface and is facing the hottest team in MLS.

Real Salt Lake ousted the defending champion Columbus Crew and the Cuauhtemoc Blanco-inspired Chicago Fire en route to today's final. Notably, it won both playoff series on its opponent's home turf.

Add in the fact that Real's roster includes no fewer than nine players with strong Southern California connections and it is easy to see why the Utah side, which plays an adventurous brand of soccer under Coach Jason Kreis, could spring another surprise.

"We got to the playoffs and we opened some eyes," starting goalkeeper Nick Rimando, formerly of UCLA, said Thursday.

There are four Galaxy alumni in the Real Salt Lake fold -- assistant coach Robin Fraser being the most prominent of a quartet that also includes midfielders Clint Mathis and Ned Grabavoy and forward Robbie Findley.

Real's first appearance in an MLS final in only its fifth season in the league might be a surprise, but Los Angeles getting back to the title match after three seasons out of the playoffs is equally eyebrow-lifting.

Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, in his first full season in charge, was asked at what point he thought his team could reach the final.

"There was no point," he admitted. "I'd be lying if I thought that. Our immediate goal was always to make the playoffs. I confidentially had a goal of having 25 points when David Beckham arrived [in July, back from his loan to AC Milan]. We had 24.

"Our plan was to have our heads above water by the time David got here. That wasn't easy. But we kept ourselves alive, and then when David came it obviously made us a little bit of a different team.

"At no time did I think we could win the MLS Cup. It's a hard thing to do. It really is."

But back to Beckham and to the injured foot that could add a final twist to the story of the 2009 MLS season.

On Saturday afternoon under cloudy skies and scattered showers, Beckham gingerly walked off the field after the Galaxy's closed-door training session at Qwest Field. Arena tried to put a brave face on it all.

"David will be fine," he said. "David will be fine. David has trained for the past three days and there is nothing wrong with David."

Time will tell. Earlier in the week, Beckham admitted that he had not been able to train for several days after last Friday's conference final against the Houston Dynamo in Carson.

"It's been frustrating," he said of the bone bruise that caused him to wear a foot brace and to avoid training so as not to suffer another kick to the troublesome foot.

"It's one of those things that you just have to get through," he said. "After five, 10 minutes of the game, I'm sure I'll forget all about it."

There was a possibility, he added, that he might have to take painkillers in order to play today.

"Yeah, definitely, but it's part of sports," he said. "You know, if you want to be involved in certain games, then you have to make certain sacrifices. That's the way it is. But it'll be fine."

After today, Beckham's next commitment is to attend the 2010 World Cup draw Dec. 4 in Cape Town, South Africa, in his role as ambassador for England's 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

Then, on Dec. 28, he will rejoin AC Milan for another loan spell.

Despite his aches and pains, Beckham soldiers on. Donovan said the midfielder has been "hurt or sick [with flu] for probably the last six or seven games, but he gets on with it and he plays. That's helped our team a lot."

One more game and one more bit of help could earn the Galaxy a championship that would mean everything to the Beckham-Donovan duo.

"I don't think anyone's going to remember in a few years if we got to the final and lost," Donovan said. "They'll remember if we won."

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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