David Beckham dribbled, juggled and passed the ball during a Los Angeles Galaxy practice on a stiflingly hot afternoon at RFK Stadium, offering at least some hope that the 45,000 people who had bought tickets for last night's game would actually get to see him play.
"It's looking up," Beckham said on Wednesday. "I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully I'll get out there playing soon."
The former English captain who elevated Major League Soccer's (MLS) profile to new heights simply by signing a contract still hasn't played a MLS game, a frustration compounded by the fact that he knows the fans have been let down.
"There's obviously going to be people who maybe don't understand, but it's a sports injury," Beckham said at a news conference that had to be held in one of the stadium's batting cages used by Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals to accommodate the media throng.
"I can't really apologize for being injured because that's just the way of life in any sportsman's career. It's frustrating for myself to not be out there on the pitch, probably more frustrating than for the people to wait for me to step onto the pitch. I'm doing everything possible to get fit, and that's all I can say," he said.
He spoke of getting perhaps 10 minutes or 20 minutes as a substitute, depending on how his ankle feels after his limited participation in two days of practice.
"If it's not right, it's not right," Beckham said. "It's one of those injuries that has to be right for me to play because I don't want to set myself back another five or six weeks just for 20 minutes on the field."
Beckham sprained his ankle while playing for England in June and aggravated the injury in a game with Real Madrid later that month. He made a 16 minute appearance in an exhibition game against English club Chelsea shortly after joining the Galaxy last month and has since missed all three of Los Angeles' SuperLiga games as well as Sunday's goalless draw at Toronto.
Coach Frank Yallop said the opportune setting for a MLS debut -- a full house in the nation's capital -- would not influence whether Beckham plays.
"We're not going to put him out there to re-injure it," Yallop said. "We'll put him out there when he's fit and ready to go. He's getting close. We won't force him."
While Beckham was unsure about his playing status, he had a strong message for MLS: Ditch the artificial turf.
Beckham said he's noticed some things that are "not right" about MLS, and foremost in his mind was the fake grass used at four MLS stadiums. He said the fact that RFK Stadium has the real thing -- unlike Toronto and New England, where the Galaxy play Sunday -- will be a "huge factor" in whether he will play.
"As a professional athlete, you can't play a game like soccer on that sort of field," Beckham said. "What it does to your body as a soccer player, you're in bits for three days after that."