CARSON, Calif. – David Beckham missed out on the playoffs his first two years in MLS. He won an MLS Cup in each of his last two.
In the past four years, the LA Galaxy have made it to three MLS Cup finals, won two and added two Supporters' Shields. Beckham's legacy in MLS will ultimately include celebrity and local support and worldwide awareness of the league and everything else that keeps Don Garber awake at night, but let's get one thing straight: David Beckham wins trophies.
“The feeling of making a final, the preparation, the feeling around the club, it never gets old,” the English midfielder said. “I'm 37 and I've been able play in quite a few finals and championship games, and I still love it like I did my first.”
By now Beckham has a lot of them to cherish. Six Premier League titles with Manchester United, a La Liga trophy with Real Madrid, a Champions League. A pair of FA Cups. A long list of individual honors. If it glitters, Beckham's probably held it aloft with that dazzling smile of his outshining whatever hunk of metal he's smudging with his fingers.
That grin belays a tireless work ethic, though.
“I tell my children every single day that if you want to be successful, it's hard graft,” Beckham said. “It doesn't come easy.”
That certainly held true in MLS. Injury (2007) and an awful and lopsided team (2008) marred his first two seasons in the United States. But the arrival of Bruce Arena midway through 2008 instigated what at this point can safely be called a dynasty. (Fans of the Houston Dynamo, defeated finalist in each of the past two seasons, have permission to cringe here.)
The ripe Arena years have helped ingratiate Beckham and his family into the local landscape. He wears boots with both an English and an American flag stitched into them. He draped himself in a Union Jack and an American flag after winning the most recent MLS Cup.
“People have been incredibly kind to myself and my family, and welcoming,” Beckham said. “That, I'll never forget.”
It's likely that his Galaxy teammates won't forget what Beckham taught them either. He is, after all, a winner.
One moment from the 3-1 win over Houston on Saturday stuck out to Landon Donovan. Beckham had laid one of his trademark set pieces into the box, and Omar Gonzalez let the chance pass.
“David went over to [Gonzalez] and said, 'Go attack the ball. That's what you're here to do on those plays,'” Donovan said. On the next play, Gonzalez scored the equalizer with a looping header on a cross to the far post. “I think that was the moment that things changed,” Donovan said.
That particular kind of quiet leadership mimicked what Beckham provided during a rough year. With a cup hangover and exhausted by a grueling offseason trip to Asia, Los Angeles began the 2012 season with 11 points from 13 games through May. In June, Donovan went on international duty.
“I got a few phone calls from the players, from the coaches, saying that something had changed,” Donovan said. “The overwhelming comment was: David's demeanor was influencing everybody. He decided at that point that he was going to take control.”
The Galaxy picked up 43 points from the last 21 games. They made it into the playoffs, and then they won those playoffs.
“Good teams and good character in teams come good at the right times,” Beckham said.
Beckham came good consistently. Now, after six years in Los Angeles, he can ride out into the sunset with his Hollywood ending and his cluster of trophies. He'll be back in MLS, at some point, as an owner. By then, his legacy in the league will already be unimpeachable.
“When I decided to come here, I kind of raised a little bit of interest,” Beckham said. “I hope that's what I've done. If that's the single thing I've done, then great.”
He definitely did that. But he also won a whole bunch of trophies.
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