CARSON, Calif. – It was five years, plenty of headaches and an unthinkable amount of money in the making, but for one sweet night the stars aligned for the Los Angeles Galaxy. Their ultimate dream was finally realized.
Major League Soccer’s most high-profile club has never been afraid to go after the biggest names possible, an approach that has gained it as many detractors as fans. But when it mattered most, the men who earn the big bucks repaid the club’s faith and investment by teaming up for the only goal of the MLS Cup final.
David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan rake in a combined $12.2 million per season, more than triple the Houston Dynamo’s entire payroll, but on this night, as a soaking Home Depot Center rocked in celebration, every cent seemed worth it.
Beckham headed on a long ball from the back in the 72nd minute, Keane sent a neat pass into open space and Donovan ran on then clipped it into the net with a flick of his right foot to give the Galaxy the 1-0 victory.
It could be goodbye for Beckham, who ended his stays with Manchester United and Real Madrid as a league title winner, and has serious offers on the table from both French club Paris Saint-Germain and the Galaxy. If it is goodbye, it would be a fairytale finish.
The England midfielder was not fully fit, having torn a hamstring in training that hampered his effectiveness, but there was no lack of effort. This was the last competitive game of his current contract and his determination to go out as a champion shined through this uncharacteristically cold and rainy California night.
“I tore my hamstring on Tuesday and I had a little bit of a cold on Wednesday morning,” Beckham said, referring to the official excuse given for his absence. “I actually did have a cold, none of us were lying.
[ Slideshow: Galaxy celebrate winning MLS Cup ]
"Being successful always feels good, proving people wrong feels even better. We are the Galaxy, we are the biggest club in this country and league, and we are proud to be part of this.”
This was the culmination of a long project, one that seemed doomed to failure in his early days as a Galaxy player but turned around resoundingly over the past three years. The scene at the Home Depot Center, where a record soccer crowd of more than 30,000 packed into the stadium and gave it a traditionally vibrant European atmosphere, was proof of how far the game in this country has evolved since Beckham’s arrival in the summer of 2007.
“I have been around great competitors and athletes in my career,” coach Bruce Arena said. “He is as good as it comes, he has an unbelievable desire to win. He is a great teammate and a great person and I am so happy for him. He has done it in every country. What more can you say about the guy and all he has brought to this club and this country?”
At the end Beckham looked spent, mentally and physically, but still found the energy to lift up Donovan and carry him toward the jubilant fans.
The wait for Donovan has been even longer than for Beckham. The United States’ most recognizable player and perhaps its best, Donovan won three MLS Cups early in his career but had not tasted success since 2005.
“This is a sense of elation,” Donovan said. “It has been a long year, a trying year, and there are times through it all when you get tired and, mentally, you wear down. This is a special night and I will remember it forever.”
The goal was his fourth in MLS Cup finals, a record. Donovan chose to remain in Los Angeles even when European clubs came knocking in recent years and surely now feels fully vindicated in his decision.
For Keane, success has come quickly. This was only his fifth game since moving from the English Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur, and he was seen, with his predatory instincts in front of goal, as the missing cog for the Galaxy. His finishing was off in the final, but he set up Donovan perfectly for the winner.
“They were the best team in the league from Day One and a deserving champion,” Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said. “You can’t look past that.”
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