RESPLENDENT IN a black Hugo Boss suit, David Beckham made a brief appearance in the ESPN2 booth last Thursday during the Los Angeles Galaxy's 3--0 loss to intracity rival Chivas USA. The one-sided score and Beckham's civilian getup were reminders that his much-hyped MLS debut season (SI, July 16) has been torpedoed by injuries—a balky left ankle and, more recently, a sprained right knee that will almost certainly prevent him from playing meaningful games for the rest of this season. Even if Beckham's rehab schedule enables him to return to the field in October, the woeful Galaxy (4-13-5 at week's end) has almost zero chance at the playoffs.
But his stillborn season—four starts, one goal and three assists—shouldn't have much long-term economic impact on MLS as long as Beckham makes up for it with his play in 2008, says David Carter, the executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. "If for any reason Beckham does not come back and play to the level of expectations, people are going to be wondering, Why should we spend our hard-earned money and our precious time on MLS and the Galaxy?" Carter says.
MLS and the Galaxy can draw several lessons from this season. First, they shouldn't abuse their star (and team), as they did by trying to shoehorn a Beckham appearance in every MLS city into a half-season. Second, MLS should fall in line with the rest of the world and stop scheduling games on FIFA-designated international dates. (Last month Beckham played 90 minutes for England and 90 more for L.A. on consecutive days eight time zones apart.) Third, Beckham needs elite players around him; he isn't a player who can single-handedly change a game.
Finally, Beckham needs to be fully fit. After watching him hurt his knee, L.A. president Alexi Lalas had a sit-down with his superstar. "We said, 'As long as you'll be out, take the time and make sure when you come back, you're 100 percent,'" Lalas says. "'We're not doing anything but making sure your knee and ankle and mental state are 100 percent.'"
If that doesn't happen, the buzz that surrounds Beckham might move elsewhere. When the pop star Morrissey showed up to watch the Galaxy last Thursday, he was wearing a Chivas jersey.