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The bitterness of defeat was etched on David Beckham's face, but as the latest episode of his North American adventure came to an end, there was a significant difference about the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder.
Major League Soccer bids farewell to Beckham until July next year, as he departs for a loan spell with AC Milan – and then possibly the World Cup with England – fresh from a gut-wrenching penalty shootout defeat to Real Salt Lake in Sunday's MLS Cup final.
Shootouts, soccer's cruelest method of deciding victory are a sore subject for any Englishman, especially a man who has seen his national team bow out of three major tournaments on PKs during his career. Yet despite the painful conclusion to his MLS campaign, there was none of the "cut and run" mentality that followed Beckham the last time he left for Italy 12 months ago.
If there was ever a time when he would have been entitled to be down on MLS, it might have been after Sunday night's title match. An artificial pitch, an over-eager referee, another nagging injury and the alien concept of an MLS champion that ended the regular season with a losing record might all have irked him in the past.
However, Beckham seems to have finally gotten himself used to and in tune with the unique foibles of the North American league, and he left no doubt that he will be back to see out the final two years of his contract – and maybe more.
"Of course, I will be back," Beckham said. "I said I will be back hopefully after the World Cup and that is not going to change. I have gone past whether people still want to question my commitment. Nothing like that is going to make me lose any sleep. If they want to do it, let them do it."
Gaining a spot in England's World Cup squad is now Beckham's priority. Heading into the MLS title game, though, there could be no question of his commitment to the Galaxy.
The scheduling of the Western Conference final against the Houston Dynamo two weeks ago meant he missed an England friendly against Brazil, and he did so without a second thought. Then there were the lengths he went to in order to play on Sunday.
Beckham stepped onto Qwest Field in Seattle with a trio of cortisone injections in his right ankle in an attempt to dull the pain of severe bone bruising. By the end, the effects of the shots had long since worn off and he was effectively a passenger, hobbling and aching. But he still got his 34-year-old legs through 120 minutes and, unlike Landon Donovan, steadied his nerve for a successful kick in the shootout.
Such efforts may not have the wow factor of sexy advertisements, but it is this kind of genuine toil and effort that truly lends credibility to MLS, not Beckham's face plastered on so many billboards.
He will never be just another player in this league, not with a bodyguard and a celebrity wife and trips to the World Cup draw on a private jet. But he has started to see some of the fruits of his decision to come to MLS, and he has developed a greater commitment to the league. He is even talking seriously about taking up his option of team ownership in the future and may become part of a consortium to launch a new club in Montreal, Las Vegas or New York.
"We have got options," Beckham said. "For obvious reasons, I can't say too much, but it will happen eventually."
Those didn't sound like the words of a man thinking of getting out of town. And the next time he comes back, the greeting will be with open arms, rather than sneering suspicion.