In the event, the script was hijacked by the underdog (Real Salt Lake defeated the LA Galaxy 5-4 in penalties). Commissioner Don Garber desperately wanted the double whammy of handing the MLS Cup to Captain America, Landon Donovan, while congratulating Beckham on his MVP award. Had the Galaxy held its collective nerve in the penalty shootout, Garber’s gleeful fantasy would have been fulfilled.
It may still happen. Beckham has pledged to return to the U.S. after a second loan spell in Milan which he hopes will be enough to convince Fabio Capello to find room for him on the England flight to South Africa. No such doubts for Donovan, who will certainly be there as a key part of Team USA.
With Bruce Arena at the helm in Los Angeles there is every reason to expect his team will again be a contender next year but, with all due respect to Real Salt Lake who were worthy winners in Seattle, MLS wanted a headline hailing Beckham a champion in a third country.
They wanted that famous dazzling smile hugging the silverware flashing across the world – they got the tired and forlorn image of a man, beginning to look his age, with an absurd haircut.
It wasn’t his fault of course. Beckham played a full part in the proceedings – starting the build up to the goal which put his team ahead, taking countless corners and free kicks which his teammates could not convert and setting the tone in the shootout by confidently stroking home the first penalty kick.
Salt Lake must have been licking their chops when extra time failed to produce a winner. Just the previous week, the five-year-old franchise had seen off Chicago in a shootout and when Donovan ballooned his effort over the bar, the writing was on the wall. Perhaps he’ll now reconsider the complex and clearly unnecessary pre-spot kick ritual.
Plenty left to give
Inevitably there will be many ready to predict Beckham’s impending retirement. Not even a global superstar can hold back time and Beckham will be 35 by the time he’s next due to kick a ball in Major League Soccer. What if England defies logic and wins the World Cup next summer? How could he possibly top that as a player?
He couldn’t of course, but the MLS Cup loss will have hurt him as a professional. My personal belief is Beckham’s insatiable competitive appetite will draw him back into a Galaxy uniform in 2010. Defeat and disappointment has been part and parcel of his storied career, as has his remarkable ability to bounce back and force the critics to eat their words.
Beckham is well aware he is in the twilight zone, but if Blanco, McBride and Schelotto are still effective performers in MLS, there is no physical reason why the Englishman should not extend his playing days by another year or two. Like all players his body will let him know, loud and clear, when it’s time to call it a day.
Above all David Beckham wants to leave his mark. He did so at Manchester United and Real Madrid and won’t be satisfied until he’s done so in America. He’s filled stadiums and elevated the profile of the sport he loves in the U.S. and the image of Major League Soccer worldwide.
When he can no longer play he’ll invest in the league as an owner, but before that day he wants to be a winner on the field. Perhaps the loss to Real Salt Lake is just another bump in the Beckham road. The carrot has been dangled only to be snatched away at the final moment.
Beckham’s been here before, and Beckham will be back.
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