After spending most of the last two months on life support, suddenly the Los Angeles Galaxy's season has burst back into life.
When David Beckham went down with a knee injury in the SuperLiga final on August 29, it appeared to be the last chapter in a fractured, frustrating and unfulfilled campaign for the club.
Yet five weeks later, and with his teammates having finally shaken free of the brain-freeze which condemned them to six straight league defeats and jibes that they were no better than a pub team, Beckham's impending return adds weight to the feeling in the Galaxy organization that the season need not be given up for dead just yet.
It's a miracle that such an outcome is even a remote possibility. During one miserable week in the middle of September, Frank Yallop's team were taken apart by Chivas USA and the Houston Dynamo and managed to throw away a late lead in a draw with equally lowly Real Salt Lake. L.A. seemed to be destined for the bottom of the MLS pile.
Instead, consecutive wins over FC Dallas, Kansas City Wizards and Columbus Crew have the Galaxy back in the playoff hunt and have placed pressure on the Chicago Fire, who are currently sitting in the eighth and final postseason spot. Colorado and Columbus are also in contention.
So a year that has gone from being dismissed as little more than a learning experience and a valuable unearthing of which Galaxy players could or couldn't handle the spotlight, suddenly has fresh legs. L.A.'s primary target must be to get close enough to Chicago to be within a chance of overtaking the Fire with a victory in the final game of the season on October 21. The two teams meet that day in the Windy City.
This weekend promises to be crucial, with the Galaxy visiting Houston on Sunday, a day after Chicago plays host to the in-form New England Revolution, winners of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this week. Beckham will not be playing in Texas; his return is pencilled in for a home game against Toronto FC on October 13, but the prospect of his inclusion will be a further boost.
And that is where the Galaxy hierarchy have been clever and have offset some of the damaging over-enthusiasm they were guilty of when Beckham first showed up in the United States.
Back then, their (and Beckham's own) desire to please the waiting public led to diagnoses of a sprained ankle that were too optimistic. That built up false hope and eventually led to disappointment.
However, following Beckham's knee injury in the SuperLiga final against Pachuca, the opposite approach, one of caution, was sensibly employed. While the Galaxy never suggested publicly that Beckham would not play again this season, they did nothing to counteract that commonly-held assumption.
So now the idea of the England midfielder coming back will be treated as an unexpected bonus and a chance to further propel L.A.'s playoff drive rather than an overwhelming and long-anticipated sideshow. If the Galaxy can avoid defeat in Houston, Beckham will have a chance to contribute something meaningful on the pitch for the first time since he joined MLS.
After all the publicity, the press conferences, the autographs and the rehab, that is all Beckham really wants to do.
"I don't think I've ever had so many injuries in such a short space of time," Beckham told the Los Angeles Times. "It has been tough because I hate being injured and I hate not being able to play football. It's come at the worst time.
"I think I'll play before the end of the season. Even if we lose a game and are not able to make the playoffs, I'll still try to get one or two games in. I need to get back to playing."