Beckham, Galaxy move closer to first title

CARSON, Calif. – David Beckham promised to repay the Los Angeles Galaxy’s faith and investment in him by finally ending the organization’s painful wait for an MLS Cup title.

The Galaxy have not tasted success since Beckham arrived in 2007 and now, in the final year of his lucrative contract, stand just two games from winning it all.

Beckham was outstanding Thursday night as the side overcame the New York Red Bulls 2-1 (3-1 on aggregate) in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal, setting up Mike Magee for one goal and winning a penalty that was converted by Landon Donovan for the second.

If he can produce a similar effort at home to Real Salt Lake in Sunday’s winner-takes-all Western Conference final, it will put the Galaxy in a strong position to move into the title game.

Nothing less than lifting the trophy would be considered acceptable for L.A., which has invested vast sums of money on Beckham and his supporting cast, but has not been rewarded with the ultimate prize.

"We want to win a trophy for this club," Beckham said. "We owe it to them for the investment they have made and the way we are treated. It has hurt a lot coming close but not managing to win for the past couple of years and we have a lot of determination to put that right."

Even as his career has moved closer to its end, Beckham’s heart has been questioned. And it was that part of his body that came into play here, albeit in somewhat unusual fashion. As Beckham and New York’s Roy Miller battled for the ball in the penalty area in the second half, Miller inexplicably raised his foot, lashed out and struck the English midfielder on the left side of the chest.

Referee Hilario Grajeda wasted no time in pointing to the spot, Landon Donovan dispatched it confidently, and the Galaxy had effectively completed the job with 15 minutes to go.

Their reward is a Sunday showdown against an opponent in Salt Lake that beat them heartbreakingly on penalty kicks in the 2009 final, the moment when it looked like Beckham would claim his first piece of American silverware. This time though, the Galaxy will be at home, at full strength and are a legitimate favorite.

[MLS Cup playoffs photo slideshow: Galaxy defeat Red Bulls; Dynamo beat Union]

Beckham was taken off late, primarily as a precaution, especially with the team facing a speedy turnaround with precious little time for muscular and mental recovery. He has not played three games in a week all season yet will be asked to do so, with head coach Bruce Arena and his medical staff closely monitoring some minor back spasms Beckham suffered in the first half.

Although the Galaxy had gone into Thursday night a goal ahead after winning an ill-tempered first leg 1-0 in New York, things were all squared up just four minutes in. Luke Rodgers, also English but having played his career far from the bright lights trained on Beckham, sprinted onto a Thierry Henry pass and clipped the ball into the net to stun the home crowd.

At that point, the Red Bulls, the second biggest spenders in MLS who only just managed to squeeze into the playoffs courtesy of a wild card, were revitalized and hungry for an upset. Suddenly the possibility that this could be Beckham’s final night in Galaxy white was real, such is the sudden-death nature of the MLS playoff system.

Beckham will most likely return next season, although he is giving serious consideration to the offer made by French club Paris St Germain, the only real alternative to re-upping for one more year at the Home Depot Center.

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However, his thought process will be influenced by countering factors. While the Galaxy option would allow him more freedom to participate for Great Britain in the London Olympics next year, PSG, which currently leads the French Ligue 1, would almost certainly provide one more crack at Champions League soccer, a final opportunity to rub shoulders with the very best.

Beckham refuses to entertain questions on his future right now, preferring quite reasonably to focus on this playoff campaign. While his arrival in the United States was hailed as a turning point for American soccer and a chance to boost its interest, his sole intention at this point is to win this season’s championship.

"This has been my most enjoyable season here and I feel good about how this team looks," he said. "Anything can happen in the playoffs and you have to be up for every game. That is all I am thinking about and concentrating on.

"Things are at a point now where you can’t afford any mistakes or you will get knocked out. But we are also just a couple of games and a couple of good performances away from achieving what we all want – the title."

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