David Beckham recovers his popularity in US

David Beckham has finally created a sensation on the field.

His timing was impeccable.

Just when media interest appeared to be fading, the English midfielder revived it by scoring his first goal and notching three assists while playing major minutes in two games last week.

Beckham's first goal for the Galaxy came in a 2-0 North American SuperLiga victory over D.C. United last Wednesday, his first start for his new team.

That bending free kick led to a fresh round of next-day video replays across the United States on everything from sports highlights programs to the tabloid news shows.

"I've scored a lot of important goals in my career, big goals in my career, and this ranks among them," he said. "I wanted to get off to a good start with the team and with the fans."

Then he drew 66,237 to Giants Stadium for his first Major League Soccer start. Beckham set up two goals, but the Galaxy lost 5-4 to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.

"Oh, yeah, there's tremendous pressure," Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas said. "We're not naive to the fact that a lot of people want to see him and that there's a lot of people buying tickets specifically to see him."

The initial Beckham media interest quickly died because of a left ankle injury that relegated the former England captain to the bench for much of his first month.

He played a total of 37 minutes in two token appearances in his first eight games, disappointing fans in sellout crowds who were forced to buy tickets for multiple games just to see Beckham.

His first extended road trip drew an average of 42,211 fans to Toronto, Washington, New England and New York, although he sat out in Toronto and New England.

Beckham hopes his ankle is well enough for him to make his 97th appearance for England against Germany in London on Wednesday night. Then he'll fly across eight time zones to try to make Thursday's night MLS game against Chivas USA in Carson.

Not only are fans buying tickets - although just 17,223 saw his first goal in Carson - they're also purchasing No. 23 jerseys.

Even with his injury, merchandise sales are up 700 percent for the Galaxy this season and 300 percent leaguewide because of Beckham, according to MLS.

However, until the most scrutinized left ankle in sports is fully healed, Beckham may continue to play in fits and starts, prompting more of the criticism that's been directed at him and the team.

"It's unfair," Galaxy midfielder Peter Vagenas said. "If it were truly up to him, and if it were medically the right thing to do, he would have been out there a long time ago."

Beckham didn't practice with the team for the first time until last week. Before then, the Galaxy had limited media access to Beckham to news conferences. The team had been vague about his ankle and his playing status.

Coach Frank Yallow admitted after Saturday's game that Beckham's full 90 minutes against the Red Bulls was in part necessitated by an ankle injury to defender Ante Jazic, who had to be replaced in the 17th minute.

"It's so hard to come into a new situation where everything is so hyped and not be able to do anything about it," Galaxy goalkeeper Joe Cannon said. "It's been a trying time for all of us."

Beckham recently admitted that his ankle wasn't ready when he made his July 21 debut in an exhibition against Chelsea attended by a star-studded sellout crowd of 27,000 and shown live on national television.

"It definitely aggravated it and put me back at least a week," he said.

But Lalas said Beckham himself decided to play that night.

"There was certainly a tremendous amount of pressure and in a perfect world, we would just say no and we would have set him down for a month," the general manager said. "But this is not a perfect world. This is a sport that is growing, and David has a tremendous responsibility that he accepts and recognizes."

Beckham's role on team changed last week from being reluctant to take a leadership role due to his lack of playing time to being more assertive, thanks to Landon Donovan handing him the captain's armband.

His influence apparently extends to his teammates' fashion choices. Like him, several of them have dressed in black suits, white shirts and red ties after recent games.

Having the world's most famous soccer player suddenly dropped in their midst has been "an eye-opener" for the team, Vagenas said.

"His being here puts us on the world stage. Every little game that we play, every little thing that you do truly means something," the midfielder said. "You're in the pressure cooker, so you've got to perform."

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Author`s name Angela Antonova