Washington:David Beckham had let enough fans down. He was ready to play in his first Major League Soccer match, despite the sore ankle and a downpour that reminded him of home made him even more eager to take the field.
The English midfielder played the final 21 minutes in the Los Angeles Galaxy's 1-0 loss to DC United at soggy RFK Stadium on Thursday night, the biggest debut for a foreign star in a US soccer league since Pele arrived in 1975.
"It's not nice to disappoint people that paid a lot of money to come and see the game. I was glad to get on the pitch tonight. It was a good night, but it was a bad night, too, because we ended up losing the game," said Beckham.
Beckham joined the Galaxy last month but his left ankle, healing from a June injury, had limited him to one friendly match. Afterward, he spoke of perhaps playing an entire half on Sunday at New England and an entire game August 18 at New York.
"There's was tenderness; there was hesitation," Beckham said. "I hadn't played for eight weeks, hadn't trained for eight weeks. I was happy to get out there and get at least 20 minutes."
The sellout crowd of 46,686, who waited anxiously to see if this would be the night Beckham would finally play in a competitive match, roared when the 32-year-old star stripped off his warmup jacket and T-shirt, displaying his bare chest, and prepared to enter as a second-half substitute.
The three-time World Cup veteran, his hair closely cropped and stubble on his face, then put on his No 23 jersey and replaced Quavas Kirk in the 72nd minute.
By then, the rain had soaked everyone, but that didn't deter Beckham. "It was the biggest raindrops I've ever seen, much bigger than back home," he said. "It made it enjoyable. I'm used to that sort of weather, so it was nice to go out there. I like it when the ground's wet anyway."
The crowd cheered and flashbulbs popped every time Beckham touched the ball, but he wasn't able to make much of an impact for a Galaxy team that was shut out for the second straight game and is 3-6-5, the second-poorest record in the league.
Beckham's task was made more difficult because the Galaxy were playing with 10 men following midfielder Kyle Martino's ejection for a hard tackle on Fred in the 67th minute.
The former captain of England's national team did get one free kick, but it from 40 yards out, too far to "Bend It Like Beckham" and into the goal. He served it into the penalty area, where Carlos Pavon headed the ball over the crossbar.
Beckham also played a pass half the length of the field to American star Landon Donovan, who tripped over goalkeeper Troy Perkins at the corner of the penalty area.
Beckham raised both arms, angry that a foul wasn't called. And two minutes into injury time, he lofted a ball for Pavon into the area.
"We have to look forward to the next game and work hard because it's a process that we have to get right," he said. "And we will, because we've got a lot of talent in this team. It's just about getting it onto the pitch and proving it to people."
Beckham and coach Frank Yallop both felt the Galaxy should have received one, possibly two, penalty kicks for fouls against Donovan.
"That can't be missed," Yallop said. "It cost us the match."
Looking on was England coach Steve McClaren, who is interested in Beckham's status for an August 22 friendly against Germany and European Championship qualifiers against Israel on September 8 and Russia four days later. Beckham planned to meet with McClaren after the game.
"He'll only judge me off seeing me play, seeing me get minutes on the pitch," Beckham said. "That's the only way he can be confident I can be in the squad."
The game's only goal was scored by Luciano Emilio in the 27th minute, his league-leading 13th.
Beckham's appearance was the latest milestone in his move to the United States, a signing that has created unprecedented publicity for a league that hopes to elevate itself above niche status in a crowded sports landscape.
The debut had been delayed by a sprained ankle, sustained while playing for England on June 6 and aggravated in his Real Madrid finale 11 days later.
Since joining the Galaxy, Beckham had made only a 16-minute appearance as a substitute against England's Chelsea. He then missed all three of the Galaxy's SuperLiga games as well as Sunday's scoreless MLS draw at Toronto.
The crowd was the fourth largest to watch an MLS game at RFK, and more than twice United's previous largest home draw this year.
Tailgaters took their spots in the parking lots several hours before kickoff, and a group of United fans, known to sing loud and long during every match, hung a huge banner that read "We sing better than your wife," a reference to Beckham's pop-singing wife, Victoria.
Pele's US league debut came on June 18, 1975, for the North American Soccer League's Cosmos at Downing Stadium on Randalls Island. Two days earlier, Pele had made his first Cosmos appearance in a home friendly against Dallas.