CARSON -- The way David Beckham was holding his head Thursday night after landing hard following an acrobatic clearance during the Galaxy's 2-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls, you might fear for a concussion.
Beckham dismissed the notion after the game, pointing out quite rightly that if he'd had a concussion, he wouldn't have been able to continue playing.
“I think I just headed the ball wrong,” he said, then added that it was “my back more than anything ... I've had issues with my back all season.”
Why was he then holding his head?
“My hair was messed up.”
Whatever was going on, Beckham responded with a fierce, gritty performance, covering huge swaths of ground going both ways in one of his finest moments in a Galaxy jersey.
His galvanizing performance was an example of how poorly statistics illustrate the sport.
By the numbers, Beckham was a failure. According to MLS's website, Beckham completed just 28 successful passes with 30 unsuccessful -- no other player on the field was below 50 percent; midfield partner Chris Birchall's numbers were 45-12 -- and was tackled and lost possession 31 times.
In reality, he was a warrior, turning up virtually everywhere to make tackles, clog passing lanes, pressure the ball, willing the Galaxy to victory. And both L.A. goals were his -- the corner kick Mike Magee headed home and the penalty kick Landon Donovan converted.
“His effort was great tonight,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said afterward. “He's a player with an unbelievable desire to win and compete. I think when we got down a goal, David helped pick ip the team. ... David, I think, was an inspiration to our team tonight.”
Will he be ready to go in Sunday's Western Conference final against Real Salt Lake? Nobody's talking about that one way or another, but Arena in a teleconference Friday was succinct when asked about the concussion rumors.
“He didn't,” Arena said.
His back, to be sure, was sore -- he's dealt with back spasms all season, and it was diagnosed one point as a minor spinal fracture -- and his head, well, he was holding it. He required aid on the field, and Arena had Michael Stephens up and ready to step in until Beckham made it clear he wasn't going to sit down.
“I've seen that guy go through a lot, and I think that they would have had to carry him of the field,” Donovan said. “I don't think he was coming off, and that shows a lot about his character.”
Now he's going to be asked to do something he hasn't all season: Play three games in one eight-day span.
Arena has been good about giving the 36-year-old midfielder his rest, “rotating” his lineup to keep the regulars as fresh as possible across three competitions. There's no such option for Sunday.
“If anyone can do it, it's David,” Arena said. “If he's ready to go, he's obviously going to go. We have a couple weeks off after Sunday's game, one way or another, so our guys will be ready to play Sunday.”
WORTH NOTING: If the Galaxy win, Donovan will spend the first of two weeks between the Western Conference final and the Nov. 20 MLS Cup with the U.S. national team for its friendly next Friday against France outside Paris. Robbie Keane will be gone longer. Ireland meets Estonia in a two-leg playoff for a Euro 2012 berth, next Friday in Talinn and Nov. 15 in Dublin. ... Red Bulls star Thierry Henry, on the first-round playoff series, which the Galaxy won on 3-1 aggregate: “They won. They beat us at our place, they beat us at their place. So, at the end of the day, there's nothing to say about it. We gave it a go.” ... Sunday's conference finals schedule is set. The Galaxy and Real Salt Lake face off at 6 p.m. at Home Depot Center, with ESPN and ESPN Deportes televising. The Eastern Conference final, with the Houston Dynamo visiting Sporting Kansas City, begins at 2:30 p.m. PT, and Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes will televise.