David Beckham showed a record crowd at Olympic Stadium that his reputation as one of the world's great dead ball kickers is justified.
The 36-year-old England international curled a free kick past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts in the 62nd minute to give the Los Angeles Galaxy a 1-1 draw with the expansion Montreal Impact in Major League Soccer play Saturday.
The cavernous dome was jammed with 60,860 spectators, a record for a professional soccer match in Canada, to see the Impact's first showdown with the defending MLS champion Galaxy and Beckham, their star midfielder and England's former captain.
"Donovan is such a talented goalkeeper," said Beckham. "With the free kick, I knew I had to put it pretty precise to beat him."
Davy Arnaud put Montreal (3-5-3) ahead early and it was enough to keep the expansion Impact unbeaten in their last four league games and without a loss in their four home games this season. The Galaxy (3-5-2) are without a victory in their last four matches.
There was a mix of boos and cheers each time Beckham played the ball, even when he scored on one of his patented free kicks that slipped inside the right post from 23 yards to even the score. His presence had much to do with the record.
"The majority of people here tonight we were cheering the Impact on, but the fact that there were 60,000 fans is incredible," he said. "We thank all the fans, whether they're Impact fans or just football fans. It was a great day for the game."
While Montreal controlled most of the first half, and wasted two glittering chances to increase their lead, they were on their heels for most of the second and made more than one desperate defensive play to preserve the tie.
Fatigue a factor
Coach Jesse Marsch pointed to fatigue as the team played its fifth match in 15 days.
"I thought we could have made it 2-0 but in the second half, they got their game going and we started hanging on," said Marsch, whose club now has a week off before playing host to the New York Red Bulls before what should be another large crowd, although not near the turnout for L.A.
"After the first goal they got on top of their game and we just weren't as sharp as we normally are," said Arnaud, the Impact captain. "We were a little heavy.
"In fairness to [L.A.], they probably got the goal they deserved. But at the end of the day, we didn't lose the game even though we weren't at our best, which is important."
Beckham's second goal of the season came six minutes after he was shown the yellow card for an elbow to the face of Felipe Martins, which may have been embellished by the Brazilian whose job was to battle the Galaxy playmaker.
There looked to be dives and odd calls on both sides.
"I just felt the referee as making the wrong decision too many times," Beckham said with a grin. "I might be wrong. I don't think I was, but i might be. But it's tough for referees these days. Plays happpen so quick."
The Galaxy were quick to credit Ricketts, who played for them the last two seasons before joining the Impact.
"I'm guessing that if there was another goalkeeper playing for them we would have won," said Galaxy veteran Landon Donovan.
L.A.'s best chance of the opening 45 minutes came on a deftly bent corner kick by Beckham that Ricketts punched out of danger.
Just after Beckham scored, Ricketts darted out to stop Robbie Keane from point blank in a mad scramble in front of the goal.
The Impact began the match playing long balls and it paid off in the eighth minute when a Nelson Rivas bomb up the middle was let go by Bernado Corradi to slip past defender Dan Keat.
Arnaud darted in to take it and go in alone, scoring with a flick of the right foot past goalkeeper Brian Perk.
It was after Rivas took down Donovan just outside the box that Beckham scored, and L.A. kept the pressure.
"As an expansion team, we are growing and we were playing against the defending champions," said Ricketts. "I think we could have easily allowed a second goal but we didn't. We played strong defensively and we got a point, which is good.'
The attendance topped the 60,342 that turned out to a Vancouver Whitecaps match in 1983.
It was a second big crowd of the season for Montreal, who drew 58,912 to their home opener on March 17 against the Chicago Fire. Arnaud scored in that 1-1 draw as well.
"The atmosphere was amazing and for us to have that twice now is impressive," said Arnaud.
The professional record is still a far cry from the 71,619 people who attended the 1976 Olympic final in Montreal between East Germany and Poland, according to soccer historian Colin Jose.