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Stars align for Beckham

Debut limited by aching ankle

CARSON, Calif. -- David Beckham began his daunting challenge to convert America into a soccer-mad nation with an uneventful 12-minute debut for Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy last night.

Beckham got into the exhibition against Chelsea in the 78th minute, jogging onto the field amid huge cheers and a sea of camera flashes from the sold-out crowd of 27,000 at the Home Depot Center.

The 32-year-old midfielder spent most of the game on the bench because of a nagging left ankle injury.

"The atmosphere is incredible," he said after Chelsea's 1-0 victory.

There were cheers each time Beckham touched the ball, the highlight being a corner kick he took in stoppage time. After taking about 10 minutes to get loose on the sideline, he entered as a substitute for Alan Gordon, who slapped hands with the English superstar before Beckham took the field for the first time.

"I'm not fit. I haven't trained since I got here," he said. "But it's nice to be out there."

Chelsea captain John Terry scored in the 49th minute on a 19-yard shot that ricocheted off the right post and left post before caroming into the net.

Beckham got off the bench in the 66th minute to warm up, exciting fans who had waited most of the game to see him.

He jogged up and down the sideline and a roar went up when Beckham tapped an out-of-bounds ball back to the referee, his first kick of the night.

Beckham's debut was crazy from the start.

When he took his seat on the end of a metal bench, he was quickly surrounded by about 100 photographers pushing and shoving to get a shot. He calmly took in the scene as the scrum furiously snapped away within inches of him before being shoved back by about 10 security guards. He chatted with teammate Peter Vagenas while the Galaxy's starting lineup on the field was all but ignored.

Beckham's wife, Victoria, wearing her trademark huge black sunglasses, along with actress Katie Holmes and her infant daughter, Suri, watched from a private box above the field. Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt was like a lot of spectators, attending her first soccer game.

Eva Longoria (minus new husband Tony Parker), comedian Drew Carey, NBA star Kevin Garnett, movie producer Brian Grazer, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also made what were likely their first trips to Carson, a downright gritty suburb compared with Beverly Hills.

A red carpet was rolled out for the Beckhams' new Hollywood pals -- a roped-off area at the palm-lined suites entrance to the stadium.

A handful of fans were gathered outside the ropes, along with the ever-present paparazzi.

Caesar Perini, a 22-year-old Galaxy season ticket-holder, enjoyed the ramped-up atmosphere. "We wish every game could be like this," he said.