Jonah Freedman
Sunday November 22nd, 2009

SEATTLE -- Still dubious David Beckham is making an impact in this country? More than 40,000 tickets have been sold for Sunday's MLS Cup final between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake at Qwest Field (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Galavisión), with another 2,000 made available late in the week. That would mark the biggest crowd for MLS' season-capper in seven years and the third-biggest ever for a game not featuring the local team.

You'd be naïve to think that late interest wasn't due to Goldenballs' first MLS Cup appearance. His questionable health status hasn't diminished interest, either. The Galaxy's biggest star is suffering from a bone bruise in his right ankle, and walked out of Saturday's final training session gingerly with a massive ice pack taped to his foot.

But Becks says he's going to play no matter what. And given his somewhat psycho warrior mentality for getting on the field at all costs, there's every reason to believe him. He was walking just fine when I randomly crossed paths with him about an hour later before a late team lunch at the Galaxy's hotel.

If you're looking for a sense of urgency for this match, however, it's entirely possible this could be the final time Beckham and Landon Donovan line up on the same side of the ball. Beckham likely will be back in L.A. after another loan to AC Milan this winter and next summer's World Cup. Donovan, meanwhile, has made no secret of his desire for a fourth (and likely) final try in Europe, and with him 27 years old and in the middle of the most prolific 24 months of his career, it could just be a matter of time before another club comes calling.

The question is how much said club would have to offer MLS and the Galaxy to poach their most marketable homegrown star. Donovan is under contract through 2011 and league officials repeatedly have said they are not eager to sell him. Any transfer bid likely would have to be mighty -- more than the record $10 million Spain's Villarreal paid for Jozy Altidore in June '08.

But make no mistake, if the right club shows interest in Donovan (Germany, no; Spain, yes), he and the league have to find a way to make it happen.

Here are some other news and notes ahead of Sunday's big game:

Mind games. One matchup to keep an eye on is Donovan vs. Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando, who was the hero in RSL's penalty-kicks upset of Chicago in last weekend's Eastern Conference final. Rimando stopped three shots in that shootout, and claims he has a secret for his success rate off spot kicks.

"It's all instinct," he says. "[Keepers are] not supposed to save them, but I go in there thinking that I can."

Donovan, meanwhile, is the third-most prolific penalty-kick taker in the history of MLS with 20 goals in 22 attempts. Guess who was the last goalie to stop one? Yup, Rimando, who turned Donovan away in a regular-season game in '07. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Jeff Cassar, who is now RSL's goalkeeping coach, was the other.) Still, Rimando isn't expecting to continue his mastery of the MLS MVP.

"He knows the pressure," he says. "It doesn't get to him." Then again, Rimando may be the only MLS keeper who isn't thrown off by Donovan's maddening Nomar Garciaparra-like pre-kick ritual.

Spreading the field. Identifying the Galaxy's main offensive threats isn't hard. Beckham is obviously the passer and crosser; Donovan is the assassin and distributor, leading the team with 12 goals and six assists; and other players, such as Edson Buddle, Eddie Lewis and Mike Magee can hurt you in various ways.

It's not so easy when it comes to Real Salt Lake, which saw 13 different players score during the regular season -- tied for second in the league at spreading out the goals. "Everybody plays offense, everybody plays defense," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, tied for third on the team with three strikes.

Speedy striker Robbie Findley is Salt Lake's main threat: His 12 goals in '09 tied him for third in MLS with Donovan and Seattle's Fredy Montero. But from the back line to the midfield, the Galaxy need to pay attention to all of RSL's scoring threats: from Yura Movsisyan to Argentine midfielders Javier Morales and Fabián Espíndola -- even Clint Mathis who, despite being relegated to role player at age 32, still shows some of the magic that made him one of the most exciting American players ever as recently as six years ago.

Avenge the '94 Knicks. I seriously doubt Patrick Ewing and John Starks will be glued to their chairs on Sunday, cheering hard for RSL. But Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts, who served as president of the New York Knicks for seven years between 1991 and 2001, knows a thing or two about failing to seize the opportunity. In addressing the Salt Lakers at the team dinner on Friday, he referenced the Knicks squad that lost a heartbreaker in the '94 NBA Finals to the Houston Rockets in seven games.

Checketts stressed how rare it is to get the chance to play for a championship and reminded his MLS team that the Knicks made it back to the Finals only once since then, and still haven't won a title in 36 years. But how's this for added pressure? He warned the team: "Don't get this close and fail to grab it. I'm not going to tell you to go out there and give it your best effort. Win the Cup."

Bundle up. The Seattle forecast for Sunday shows the rain tapering off, but still windy and temperatures in the low 40s. That's not ideal, but it may guarantee the inaugural MLS Cup in '96 at Foxboro Stadium -- where D.C. United outlasted the Galaxy in overtime 3-2 amid heavy rain, swirling winds and temperatures in the low 40s -- retains the crown for worst-ever weather in an MLS final.

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