WASHINGTON, D.C. – It has been suggested in the British tabloid press that David Beckham is getting media coaching from his Hollywood buddy Tom Cruise.
Apparently, Cruise has told him that a beaming smile, carefully orchestrated hand gestures and subtle eye contact techniques can instantly win over a crowd and increase the effectiveness of Beckham's message.
Whether or not that is true, the fact remains that the Los Angeles Galaxy's star attraction has, like Cruise, learned to use the media to powerfully promote his beliefs. Not Scientology, but what he considers the abhorrent qualities of FieldTurf.
At a press conference in the bowels of RFK Stadium on Wednesday, Beckham spoke out strongly about the artificial surface at several MLS grounds and made his feelings perfectly clear: He hates them.
He likes real grass.
"Every game, every team, should have grass – without a doubt," Beckham said. "You can't ask any soccer athlete to perform at a high level on FieldTurf.
"That is one thing I think should change about the league because of what it does to your body. You are in bits for days afterwards."
He is not the first and certainly will not be the last player to complain about FieldTurf, which cures aches in the heads of franchise owners but allegedly creates pains in the joints of MLS players for days after matches.
But when such protests come from Beckham, it means so much more, and MLS may be left with little choice but to act. These comments, like every word the 32-year-old utters in public, will be heard around the globe and could potentially affect American soccer's ability to attract the international stars it craves.
FieldTurf looks to be a cheap option on paper, but if it causes injuries, reduces player effectiveness and turns away potential targets, then it is surely more trouble than it is worth.
The surface has clearly been a hot topic of discussion in the Galaxy dressing room since L.A. drew 0-0 at Toronto FC on Sunday. Landon Donovan said FieldTurf left him feeling "like (crap)," a sentiment shared by many of his colleagues. Now that Beckham has echoed that feeling, the Galaxy players have an incredibly powerful ally to call upon if there are further FieldTurf concerns.
At present, four teams play on synthetics – New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake. The issue is integrally woven into when Beckham will start playing regularly with the Galaxy, with visits to Massachusetts and the Big Apple scheduled for next week.
Yet even with D.C. United's RFK Stadium sporting grass, Becks will unlikely play more than a handful of minutes Thursday night, if that. He trained briefly on Wednesday but did not take part in set-piece drills, and he had his left ankle iced after only half an hour.
On the 33rd anniversary of President Nixon's career-defining scandal involving a certain Washington hotel, Anklegate has arrived in the nation's capital. And there are conspiracy theories abound, claiming the Galaxy were quiet about the true nature of Beckham's injury in order to keep interest – and ticket sales – bubbling along.
However, the California club has been in a difficult position. Sure, the Galaxy could have come out three weeks ago and said Beckham would not be seen on the field for the foreseeable future. But they would have then looked rather stupid if the player had made a quicker-than-expected recovery, which would not have been a surprise for a man with an injury history that stands up to scrutiny.
The cloudiness of the ankle situation is starting to clear up. Beckham gave a clear indication he will not play at New England, meaning his first serious playing time may be at home against D.C. United in the SuperLiga semifinal on August 15.
England manager Steve McClaren had been due to travel to D.C. to speak with Beckham and see him play. Now, it looks like he will not bother.
Frustration is the word most often used to describe the feelings around the injury that has robbed MLS of its knight in shining armour these past weeks. Yet a thought must be spared for the Galaxy players for whom the situation is somewhat of a tease. They can see a world class player who could revitalize their season, talk to him and travel with him, but, as of yet, not play with him.
"I want him playing more than anyone, probably even more than him," said Donovan, whose role should see him benefit the most from Beckham's pinpoint passing ability. "It is exciting just to have him out here, but obviously the better part will be when he gets to train with us. Then we can build some chemistry and some bonding and he will feel he is more part of the team."