Does big-name Galaxy's MLS Cup title signal a new era for league?
CARSON, Calif. -- The symmetry of it all was simply outstanding, almost too storybook to believe it could occur by happenstance.
For all the hullabaloo over designated players in Major League Soccer, none of these salary-exempted luminaries had won an MLS Cup before Sunday. Beckham's arrival in 2007 marked the beginning of a new day in MLS. The so-called "Beckham rule" delivered big names to MLS, and that helped deliver ever bigger crowds and fatter TV contracts to a burgeoning league. But none had been able to deliver a championship to their employers.
Houston won in 2007 with no DP on the roster. Since then, Columbus, Real Salt Lake and Colorado claimed MLS Cups, all with no DP services.
That changed on a raw and rainy night at the Home Depot Center, were Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and, of course, David Beckham finally pounded out the DP breakthrough. All three Galaxy DPs had something to say about the outcome, each playing a part in the 16th MLS Cup's only goal.
Donovan's intelligent run put him on the end of Keane's killer pass. Beckham started it all with another telling ball out of the midfield, this one into Keane, the Galaxy's latest DP arrival.
Donovan scoring in MLS Cup finals is nothing new. He already had three goals while collecting three previous MLS Cup rings as he led L.A. onto the field early Sunday evening -- literally leading the team out of the tunnel with a spirited, flat out sprint to midfield, well ahead of his striding teammates. So, with his latest MLS Cup trophy, Donovan joined Jeff Agoos, Jaime Moreno, Dwayne De Rosario and Brian Mullan in the four-Cup club.
Afterward, Donovan quickly deflected praise toward Beckham, a man with whom Donovan once had an ugly, public spat.
He mentioned that Beckham had pulled a hamstring earlier in the week. The Galaxy tried hard to conceal Beckham's injury, telling reporters the former England captain was missing practices due to a cold. Now, the hamstring injury (and its extent) will surely be written into the larger Beckham lore.
"The way David has played through some pretty serious injuries the last few weeks, it inspired me a lot," Donovan said. "It inspired a lot of us to just get on with it."
Donovan won the game's MVP award, but it was Beckham who ran the show Sunday. Beckham performed with such verve despite what he called a hamstring "tear," one suffered Tuesday in practice. You could quibble with the narrative, perhaps, one perhaps tipping towards the overly dramatic, but not with Beckham's big performance.
While Donovan was fairly quiet until the goal, Beckham was in charge of his team's highly organized midfield. He nearly put Keane through twice with great, early balls out of the midfield, seeing the gap and the pass before Houston's center backs could even begin dropping off in anticipation. His corner kicks were arriving with the usual devastating force; how Galaxy striker Adam Cristman missed a wide open header off one Beckham deadeye corner kick delivery, only he could say.
At other moments, Beckham's ideas were bright and alive, even if he saw passes into the penalty area that teammates didn't see in time. None of that surprised Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who was effusive in his praise for Beckham.
"David is a champion," Arena said. "I've been around great athletes and great competitors in my life, in different sports. This guy is as good as they come. Unbelievable desire to win, to compete. He's a great teammate, a great person. What more can you say about a guy like this, about what he's brought to this league and this organization?
"He gutted it out tonight," Arena said. "He obviously wanted to be there tonight, and my hat's off to him."
Now, of course, the questions must be answered of Beckham's future. He won a crown in his final year with Manchester United, and claimed another in his final year with Real Madrid. And now, in what might be is final MLS year, he's won yet again -- perhaps ushering in a new era along the way.
What will Beckham do, and when will he do it?
"We need to sit back and relax, enjoy the moment, then decide what I'm going to do," Beckham said, mentioning several times that he just wanted to "enjoy tonight."
"I might talk in past tense every now and then [about MLS], but it doesn't mean I'm not coming back," he said. "I need to decide what's best for me, what's best for my family, and then we'll see."
Said Arena: "Whatever he decides to do ... I support him, 100 percent. He's earned that."
In the bigger picture for MLS, is the league moving into a new stage, where DP attachment becomes a virtual requirement for championship consideration? Will it take a bigger financial commitment now, with ever more teams wading deeper and deeper into DP waters? Even Houston manager Dominic Kinnear, whose club has been one of the kings of frugal success, wasn't sure.
"It's hard to say," Kinnear said when asked about DPs and a larger role in the competitive balance going forward. "I think when you look at soccer, there are different eras, different formations and different parts of eras. So we'll see. A lot is up to ownership and about paying money. And do players want to come play here?"