Becks burns brighter

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

For Jimmy Conrad, tomorrow's Major League Soccer all-star game will represent his fifth appearance in a showcase event that features soccer's elite.

"I'm a grizzled veteran,'' the self-effacing Cooper, who plies his trade for the Kansas City Wizards, said.

At the same time, Conrad senses a newness to this year's festivities and a sense of anticipation.

For the first time, Cooper will be teammates with David Beckham, who will make his first appearance at BMO Field as a player.

When Becks and the rest of his Los Angeles Galaxy played Toronto FC last season, an ankle injury deprived fans of watching Beckham in action. This season, Beckham was playing in friendlies with England when the Galaxy lost 2-0 to Toronto.

BIG STAR

When a handful of all-stars staged a brief training session late yesterday afternoon, Beckham was front and centre.

It was a light-hearted exercise of ball possession, quick passes and the occasional 5-on-2 scrimmage.

Soccer's most-hyped player blended in just like any of the other high-level performers.

But Conrad, for one, makes no bones about what he envisions when his MLS all-stars take on English side West Ham United (7 p.m., CBC).

"I'm hoping to be on the end of one of Beckham's crosses on a set piece and celebrate in that corner where all the fans sit," Conrad said as he pointed toward BMO's south side, where the most rabid of TFC's faithful reside.

Conrad is well aware of Beckham's star quality and the legacy he left when he joined MLS last season.

"He's very friendly,'' Conrad said. "I think it's a little awkward to randomly go up to him and tell him I remember his goal for Manchester United against Blackburn in 1997.

"He's a peer, he's a competitor and he's our teammate."

Beckham, who was not available for interviews yesterday, will address the media today.

WORLD CLASS

"Guys like David and (Galaxy teammate) Landon Donovan are world-class players,'' first-time all-star Kenny Cooper of FC Dallas said.

"Any time you're around them it's a great opportunity to learn."

What Frankie Hejduk of the Columbus Crew has come to learn is that Beckham conducts himself in a way that belies his worldwide stardom.

"He's just one of the boys,'' Hejduk said. "He's smiling and laughing just like we're smiling and laughing.

"He's a teammate."

MLS all-star head coach Steve Nicol isn't sure how many minutes Beckham will play, or with whom.

"I'm going to try different combinations,'' Nicol, who oversees the New England Revolution, said.

"Do I want to get everybody on the field? Absolutely. It's a fine line because you want to win the game, but you also want to get the players on the field."

If Cooper had his way, he'd receive extended minutes playing with Beckham and being on the receiving end of Becks' patented crosses.

Needless to say, Cooper has his fingers crossed.


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