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The Beckham buzz-kill

L.A. debut likely nothing more than token appearance

Posted: Thursday July 19, 2007 5:21PM; Updated: Thursday July 19, 2007 5:42PM
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The Becks quandary: Even with the increased coverage of Beckham's debut, the Galaxy don't want him to aggravate his ankle injury.
The Becks quandary: Even with the increased coverage of Beckham's debut, the Galaxy don't want him to aggravate his ankle injury.
Gregg DeGuire/WireImage.com
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DENVER -- Now that the summer national-team games are basically over, the attention in U.S. soccer circles shifts almost entirely to Major League Soccer, which is basking in the hype around David Beckham, who is set to attend (but not play in) tonight's All-Star Game here against Scottish power Celtic FC (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2). And while I'm still recovering from Wednesday night's excellent "Pablo Party" -- as it said on the tickets to get into Pablo Mastroeni's fiesta at the club Rise -- I thought I'd throw some news and notes your way.

Let's dive in:

• Beckham's injured left ankle will likely limit him to a token appearance in his Galaxy debut in a friendly against Chelsea on Saturday. Ordinarily that wouldn't be a big deal in a meaningless game, except for the fact that it's hardly meaningless for ESPN, which was hoping to get big ratings for its broadcast and has promoted the game heavily.

ESPN's blowout Beckham extravaganza on Saturday features 19 cameras, including a Beckham Cam and a Celebrity Cam; special coverage on Saturday's 6 p.m. ET SportsCenter; an hour-long documentary feature on Beckham (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN); a 30-minute pre-game show; and in-game reporting by such soccer newbies as Bonnie Bernstein.

It's unlikely that Beckham would be playing at all if the game weren't being televised on ESPN, which brings a real element of risk into play. In the big picture the Galaxy would be smart not to risk any further injury to Beckham. But at the same time Beckham's absence would be a serious buzz-kill for the league and for ESPN -- and an eerie reminder of Freddy Adu's much-hyped 2004 debut, which ABC promoted heavily only for Adu not to come on until a second-half substitution.

Strangely, ESPN may not capitalize on Beckham much at all this season. Of the six games in which the Galaxy is currently scheduled to appear on the network, Beckham is likely to miss at least three of them due to potential conflicts with England national-team games. Missing a fourth on Saturday would only be worse, but I can't help but wonder if putting Becks on the field is really the wisest course of action for the Galaxy.

• Speaking of Adu, he's starting to draw some serious European interest after his sterling play at the recent Under-20 World Cup (where he scored three goals and captained the U.S. to a win over Brazil before a quarterfinal exit against Austria). A source with knowledge of the situation told me the most attractive possibility at this point that wouldn't require Adu to secure a U.K. work permit (which he almost surely would not qualify for) is a $2.5 million offer from Portugal's Benfica.

That strikes me as a low-ball offer, however, and one that MLS (which owns Adu's contract) would not likely accept. The fact remains, though, that Adu has talked for months about wanting to move to a European club now that he's 18, and given his form with the U20s the best time to move may be sooner rather than later. It might seem odd, but Real Salt Lake wouldn't be heartbroken to see Adu go. Last-place RSL hasn't seen the sort of sparkling play from Adu that he showed in Canada, and the team would receive a healthy portion of any transfer fee.

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