CARSON, Calif. – With one swing of his right foot, David Beckham delivered the kind of perfect storyline that could have been dreamed up in Hollywood.
The Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder has struck many important and spectacular free kicks during his career, but his 27th-minute effort at the Home Depot Center on Wednesday night achieved so much more than putting his new club on the way to a spot in the SuperLiga final.
Many soccer fans in the United States still lack sophistication. There is no widespread knowledge of the intricacies of the game. For example, Beckham received a louder cheer when he was yellow-carded for a rash challenge in the first half than for some of the deft touches that allowed the Galaxy to put on a composed and impressive performance in a 2-0 victory over D.C. United.
Many of the 17,223 in attendance did not understand the way Beckham stretched the D.C. defence with passes of pinpoint accuracy. Or how he created freedom and space for midfield partner Kevin Harmse. Or how his influence and impact helped Landon Donovan flourish to the full capacity of his talent.
Yet it really didn't matter because that free kick was written in a language that even the illiterate could understand. Even those who have never played or watched soccer could not fail to appreciate the sublime skill needed to perform that act with such precision and force.
Remarkably, the free kick was Beckham's first since his move from Spanish champions Real Madrid. Due to his troubled left ankle, he had not even attempted one in practice.
"It is something I have always practiced a lot during my career, but I haven't been able to take any for eight weeks because of how my ankle has been," Beckham said. "As soon as the free kick was given, I don't want to sound too confident, but I felt I was going to score as soon as I had it in my hands. Sometimes you get that feeling."
Suddenly, the hype and attention, which had turned slightly edgy when his ankle injury kept him out of four games, seemed justified.
Part of Beckham's remit when he was brought to the United States was to not only improve the quality of the league and help the Galaxy win matches but also to spread the gospel of soccer in a nation that still views it with some suspicion. Everywhere he goes, he is polite, well-presented and media-friendly. However, it is with flashes of brilliance like the free kick that he will really earn his $32.5 million contract.
Beckham also set up Donovan for the Galaxy's second goal and by the time he was replaced by Peter Vagenas after 62 minutes the result was effectively secured. The Galaxy will now host Mexican side Pachuca in the SuperLiga final on August 29.
Donovan's chivalrous gesture in handing over the captaincy to Beckham allowed the England star to run the show in more ways than one. Just like his days as leader of his national team, Beckham's vocal presence in midfield proved to be a calming influence.
On this evidence, the MLS style and Beckham's game will be a perfect fit. If he continues to perform like this then the critics and snipers will claim it is because the standard of the league is poor, but that would be a mistake and an over-simplification.
In a league where there is plenty of physical strength, a ferocious pace, but often a lack of organization, Beckham will take the pressure off of his teammates. His uncanny ability to think two steps ahead and provide the perfect pass at the right time will make the Galaxy players around him better and should give them the confidence to shine.
"It seems almost silly to keep talking about one player," Donovan said. "But he makes a big difference. It is not just the goal – he understands the game so well and he gets us out of pressure situations."
Beckham underwent treatment on his ankle after his substitution and will be monitored for Saturday's MLS clash with New York Red Bulls at Meadowlands.
It is expected he will play some part in that game before returning to England for national team duty in a friendly against Germany on August 22. However, Beckham will return immediately afterwards and could even play some part against Chivas USA the following day.
He can expect a hero's welcome at the Home Depot Center. After a couple of false starts, his American adventure is alive and well.