This is more like how David Beckham imagined things in the United States working out for him.
Four months into the 2008 Major League Soccer season and with four months to go before the championship game in November, Beckham can focus his thoughts on the title instead of worrying about the injury shadow that clouded his first North American campaign last year.
The Los Angeles Galaxy have been far from perfect so far, but they are certainly contenders and have the ability to beat any MLS opponent on any day.
Let's take a look at how Beckham has fared in his second season and the impact he has made on and off the field.
Beckham's performances have been strong and solid and his right foot has been back to its best, with free kicks and crosses of the highest quality. His biggest problems have come when faced with an opposing left back who pays him close and physical, like Dave van den Bergh of the New York Red Bulls. Generally, though, Beckham has impressed and his efforts have ensured he has kept his place in the England national team.
His combination with Chris Klein on the right has been crucial for L.A.. Klein's willingness to get forward and overlap gives Beckham the option of a pass, more space to cross the ball himself or the chance to cut inside. Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle have also enjoyed Beckham's service, and there is more flow to the Galaxy's play under Ruud Gullit.
The Western Conference is a blueprint for parity this season, with just three points separating the top six teams. So the Galaxy, tied for second in the Western Conference at 23 points, have done pretty well much like everyone else. Even so, that is a considerable improvement over this time last year, when the playoff teams were moving out of sight and L.A. embarked on a miserable run.
Beckham has made the difference in several games. His two long-range strikes at Real Salt Lake turned a certain defeat into a draw and he ran the show at home against San Jose. He, like the rest of the Galaxy, knows that more is required but things have moved in the right direction.
One of the big factors to disrupt the Galaxy in 2007 was the failure of several players to handle the hype and attention that accompanied Beckham's arrival. Many were utterly unable to cope with the extra pressure and wilted. Most of them have been weeded out and replaced with sturdier characters, and Beckham has made a point of trying to be a positive influence by helping the younger players.
"David does a great job of handling the attention and you have to admire him for that," Klein said. "It was difficult last season but we have learned to deal with (the pressure) and he has really helped."
Beckham has avoided the frustration of repeated injuries like he suffered in 2007. Physically, he looks as energetic as ever and is undoubtedly one of the best conditioned athletes in MLS.
Pace has never been one of his strong points but his tireless running has been a big plus. Also, the extra strength in his left ankle has provided more stability, adding consistency to his crossing.
"He is in great shape," Galaxy coach Trevor James said. "The main thing is that he has stayed free of injuries and that has enabled him to build a tremendous level of fitness."
Beckham is never more dangerous than when he has a point to prove and he went into the offseason stung and bitter. Those emotions have led him to strive harder than ever in 2008, and the Galaxy have reaped the rewards. The desire to continue his international career under new England head coach Fabio Capello has also been a strong driving force.
"When you spend time with David you see how much he wants it," Galaxy forward Landon Donovan said. "That is what makes him a winner."
One of the images of the season was Beckham waving and blowing kisses to FC Dallas defender Adrian Serioux, who had been red-carded for a hideous tackle on him. That reaction was probably justified due to the severity of the challenge, but Beckham has too often lost his temper when tackled during games.
On countless occasions, he has leapt to his feet to confront his opponent – and would be better served keeping his cool. It has sometimes felt like he is trying too hard to show his passion and desire for success, and he doesn't need to.
Beckham has every right to feel happy with how things have gone for him in 2008, but he will not be satisfied unless the campaign ends with him holding the MLS Cup. If he stays fit and motivated and can lift the team on his shoulders in the playoffs, then the Galaxy do have a shot at success.
- David Beckham