Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bend It One Last Time, Beckham

The impact David Beckham has had on U.S. professional soccer cannot be minimized. It's as if one can draw a demarcation line with BB (Before Beckham) on the left side and AB (After Beckham) on the right to trace the league's enhanced national and international profile. More than a "franchise player" for the LA Galaxy, David Beckham has become the "league player" for the MLS.

In the run-up to the MLS 2011 final between the LA Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo tonight at 9 pm eastern on ESPN, the Galaxy got past Real Salt Lake in a thrilling 3-1 game that had everything except a Beckham goal — he had an assist, which is almost as good. I tuned in and was caught up immediately, despite the football on the other channels. I hope you'll do the same. It promises to be a great final, with Robbie Keane, the Irish goal-scoring machine, hopefully repeating his "hat trick" from the semi, which notched him two great goals. Watch:

Although Beckham's 5-year stint in the MLS with the LA Galaxy was marred by the failure to deliver a championship — close but no cigar — and by injury — a ruptured achilles tendon in a meaningless off-season game for Milan which kept him out for most of the 2010 MLS season — he came roaring back in 2011 to become MLS Comeback Player of the Year, leading the Galaxy to another championship final with greater prospects for success this time around. At 36, David Beckham may be in the twilight of his playing career, but he has an enviable work ethic for a professional athlete. Said MLS Commissioner Don Garber:
“The fact that this has been his best year at 36 is pretty remarkable. It’s a tribute to the incredible machine he is and how focused he is on training. He has this identity as a fashionable cultural icon, but at the end of the day, he’s a hard-working, focused sportsman.”
And it's not a question of being a big fish in a small pond. Beckham is one among many stars in the League today, from French international Thierry Henry for the New York Red Bulls to Landon Donovan and the irrepressible Irish international Robbie Keane for the Galaxy itself. Rather, Beckham's impact was to popularize the game among fans who love him as much for his off-the-field cultural iconic status as for his on-the-field heroics. Ultimately, they're indivisible. That's who David Beckham is. Anyone who's seen the charming film, Bend It Like Beckham, about a young immigrant Indian girl who loves soccer and idolizes Beckham, coming of age in England with dreams of bending a shot like one of David's beauties, understands his positive contribution to that universal culture of dreams and fun and excellence that inspires young people the world over.

Robbie comes to this final having played two games for Ireland inbetween, but Beckham isn't worried: “Robbie’s Robbie. He wants to play in every game possible. He’ll get his legs back. He’ll be fine.” For David, who is in the final year of his contract, this may be his last game in the MLS. His millions of fans are hoping he'll go out the champion that he is, and that he'll feast our eyes for one more final, one last time, with the magic of his goal-scoring prowess:

David, whatever you do today, and from this day forward: THANK YOU.
UPDATE: Galaxy wins the MLS Cup, 1-0, a Landon Donovan goal with a sweet pass from Robbie Keane. It was Beckham to Keane to Donovan = goal. In the post-game interview, Donovan said Beckham was masking a hamstring pull suffered in training and played "on one leg" the entire game. He said it was "an honor" to be David's teammate. These guys are consummate pros and gamers. In the last play of the game, David had a foul shot perfectly profiled for his right foot. He bent it in alright. The goalkeeper made a sturdy save. Congrats to the Galaxy, America's first world class soccer superclub.

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