Bend it like before - Edmonton Journal

Beckham back in form after recovery from injuries

Joseph D'Hippolito
Special to the Edmonton Journal

The kick-bending midfielder and glamour icon whom fans worldwide adore is not the same man who arrived in North America 10 months ago.

David Beckham came to the Los Angeles Galaxy in July with a sprained left ankle before spraining his right knee nearly seven weeks later. Now, Beckham is starting to fulfil his anticipated role as a force on the field.

Beckham comes to Commonwealth Stadium for Tuesday night's friendly against the Vancouver Whitecaps after having been named Major League Soccer's player of the week twice in the first six weeks of the season.

The midfielder earned his second weekly honour by single-handedly rescuing the Galaxy nine days ago.

Real Salt Lake took a 2-0 lead in the first 17 minutes but Beckham scored twice in four minutes -- on a diagonal 24-yard shot from the right flank and a 30-yard free kick -- to force a 2-2 tie May 3.

"His attitude in those two moments made the difference," said teammate Landon Donovan, who played in two World Cups for the United States. "He said, 'I'm going to make a difference because we're struggling right now.' Then he went and did it.

"Other people can try it but can't pull it off. He can."

Those goals gave Beckham three for the season to go with four assists. With Real Madrid, the midfielder never scored more than four goals in any of his four seasons.

"It's all I can do," Beckham said of his performance so far. "It helps when I'm fit and healthy, and I'm definitely fit and I'm definitely healthy."

Beckham's health also enabled Donovan to enjoy unprecedented early success. Donovan has never scored more than 12 goals in an MLS season, yet leads the league with eight in seven games after scoring eight in 2007.

Donovan and Beckham have combined for 11 of the Galaxy's 14 goals and seven of the the team's 15 assists.

"We understand the game the same way," Donovan said. "Having time to train together has made it even easier. Now I know exactly where and how he wants the ball, and he knows where and how I want it.

"If he puts it in a good area, I have a chance to get to it."

Beckham played all of his first season in MLS injured. He sprained his left ankle June 6 while playing for England in qualifying for the European Championships, then aggravated the injury June 17 in his final game with Real Madrid.

Yet Beckham played seven times for the Galaxy and England -- including a friendly against Germany in London and an MLS game in Carson within 36 hours -- before spraining his right knee Aug. 29. He missed the next seven weeks.

"I wasn't even training during the week and I was playing in games, which is never right to do," Beckham said. "I wouldn't do it again."

Once his injuries healed, Beckham returned to Britain in January to train for a month with Arsenal, which has practice facilities near Beckham's home in Herfordshire.

"It helped me a lot," he said. "That was the only thing I did different than the other (Galaxy) players. When I came back, I was a lot fitter than I would have been if I hadn't trained."

Since returning from Britain, the

rejuvenated midfielder has played in all but 20 minutes of five pre-season games and every minute of every MLS match so far while displaying an aspect of his play that not even his teammates knew existed.

"I think he's more athletic than people give him credit for,"

Donovan said.

"Last year, he wasn't as mobile as he'd like to be and I think he struggled because of it. You felt like he could

pull off some plays, but other plays, he couldn't.

"Now, we're realizing that when he's fit and healthy, he moves well. He's athletic. He can run.

"People don't realize that about him, and you forget that because of his passing ability."

A healthy Beckham is expected to demonstrate both elements at Commonwealth Stadium to a crowd anticipating his every move.

© The Edmonton Journal 2008