CARSON, Calif. – The most surprising thing about the remarkable revival of David Beckham's American adventure is that it is seen as a surprise at all.
The England midfielder heads into his first Major League Soccer playoff series on Sunday having restored both his reputation and the prospects of the Los Angeles Galaxy with his off-field actions and on-field performances.
Beckham's time in California didn't take long to turn sour after his arrival in July 2007, and the union between himself and the Galaxy appeared set to end acrimoniously as the critics lined up to write off his move to the United States as a disaster. However, with the 34-year-old now just four games away from the championship, he has the chance to smite away the dissenting voices in one fell swoop.
And it wouldn't be the first time.
"It has been satisfying to turn things around because there were quite a few doubters out there," said Beckham, who makes his MLS postseason debut in the opening leg of an enticing intra-city showdown against rival Chivas USA. "When you are on a team like the Galaxy and live in a place like L.A. people have their expectations.
"In this city people are used to success and to seeing great stars perform. [After] going to watch the Lakers and seeing Kobe Bryant and the rest of the players deserving the championship last year, you always want to emulate those teams that win things. This year we have put ourselves in a position where we have a chance."
The speed and extent of the way Beckham has resurrected his MLS experience is extraordinary, especially if the Galaxy can go all the way to the championship game in Seattle on November 22.
Yet history suggests it should be no shock. Time and again throughout his career, his competitive juices have flowed most freely at the point when the critics have screeched the loudest.
After becoming a target of national vitriol following his sending off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, he responded by helping Manchester United win three trophies months later. At the next World Cup in 2002, he claimed revenge on Argentina with a game-winning penalty kick in the group stage. At Real Madrid, a mixed four-year stint as part of the star-studded Galacticos finally bore fruit with a league title in his final season.
Now a similar story may be playing out in MLS. Not content with being a clothes horse or a pretty face from which the league could hang its marketing material, Beckham has played a crucial role in turning a team with potential into one that is red hot.
What could have been a low point this summer, after returning from a loan stint at AC Milan to be greeted by a controversial book and discord with Donovan, has instead been a catalyst.
"I can't complain about how things have gone," Beckham said. "My form is very good at the moment. I can't complain about the way I'm playing and performing because we are in the playoffs and it needs to continue.
"To win the MLS Cup would be a great achievement but these things take time. Just like I always said when I first came here that soccer would grow in this country, it is just a matter of time.
"I have been lucky enough to play for two of the biggest clubs in the world. I was successful with Manchester United for many years and with Real Madrid, and it would be nice to be successful here, to quiet a few people down."
Chivas will be in no mood to lie down, however, and will be determined to send its more high-profile neighbor tumbling out of the playoffs. If history is anything to go by, the two contests on back-to-back Sundays should be spicy.
Beckham still remembers the crash course he received in the rivalry in 2007, when he clashed angrily with Chivas veteran Jesse Marsch. Relations have been frosty ever since, although the Galaxy got the upper hand this year with a pair of 1-0 wins and a scoreless tie.
"The heated encounters are good," Beckham said. "It is what we enjoy. It is what you play for, it is what you train for, it is what you work for. It is nice if you play your rivals but it is only nice if you win. We have won the majority of the games we have played in against them, but this is different.
"We have to be aware and we have to be ready for the challenge because they are a very good team. The key for me will be the mentality and the hard work that has been shown all year – you don't have success without that."
Not so long ago, Beckham, the Galaxy and success were rarely mentioned in the same sentence. But such is the nature of Beckham's career. The plot thickens again, and the next three weeks will tell if this latest chapter has another happy ending.