Sunday could be Galaxy’s last hurrah

David Beckham’s contract with LA Galaxy expires after this season, his final chance to win an MLS Cup. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Five years without a championship.

As harsh as it would be to boil down David Beckham’s career with the LA Galaxy to that sentence, that is exactly how Beckham’s time in Major League Soccer will be remembered he does not help his team win the MLS Cup final.

As much as Sunday’s championship will define Beckham’s time with the Galaxy, it will likely mark the last chance Los Angeles has to win a title with a group that has spent the better part of the past three seasons as the strongest team in MLS, only without a championship to show for it.

The fact is the clock is ticking on this current Galaxy team because in MLS, like other leagues with salary caps, keeping a winning team together gets tougher by the year, and this LA team could lose some key pieces this off-season.

You have Beckham, who is out of contract this winter, as is all-star fullback Sean Franklin. Throw in the outside possibility of Landon Donovan leaving via transfer if the Galaxy win the championship as well as the likelihood the Galaxy will lose a good player in the upcoming MLS expansion draft, and you realize that Sunday’s final is about more than just Beckham’s potential MLS swan song. It is about a team trying to secure the missing piece to a dynasty before it is taken apart.

“Of course I want to win the cup on Sunday, but it’s more important for the club that we win the cup on Sunday than myself," Beckham said. “We’ve had success in the last three years. We’ve gotten to the MLS Cup final twice. We’ve won two Supporters Shields, but we want the big one. We want the MLS Cup and we have a chance on Sunday."

The Galaxy have come a long way from the disappointing first two years of the Beckham era, which saw injury and disappointing results raise questions about whether Beckham was worth signing. Los Angeles failed to make the playoffs in either of those seasons.

Everything changed before the 2009 campaign when the Galaxy hired former US national team head coach Bruce Arena. He rebuilt the team into the strongest in MLS, transforming LA from laughing stock to title contender in one season (they lost the championship in 2009 on penalty kicks). The last three years have been one of the more successful runs in league history.

Consider the accomplishments. Two trips to the MLS Cup finals, two Supporters Shields for the best regular season record (including this season, which saw LA post the second-best record in league history), and most recently a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

“The blueprint was to try and build a successful team," Arena said. “How the pieces fit together is never easy. Our league is unique in how you acquire players and how things work out. But certainly the goal was to bring the Galaxy back where we could compete for championships.

"The blueprint has been partially successful," Arena said. “To get it right, it requires a win on Sunday. If we win on Sunday I think we got the blueprint right."

The MLS Cup title remains the missing piece to the puzzle, a trophy Arena hasn’t won in MLS since 1997 (with D.C. United), Landon Donovan and the Galaxy haven’t won since 2005, and something Beckham has never won.

If Beckham can add the MLS Cup to the titles he won in England and Spain, he could be tempted to leave MLS on a winning note, though he remains undecided on his future plans. One thing seems clear: Staying in MLS, whether LA wins or losses, is definitely an option.

That is something that wouldn’t have been imagined three years ago, and credit for that must go to the team’s recent success.

“Stability brings a lot to a team," Beckham said. “I’ve been able to play with some great players throughout my time here in MLS, so I’ve enjoyed it.

“It’s gone by very quickly, to look back and see that I’m in my fifth year (in MLS) already, it’s gone really quick, but I’ve enjoyed it."

A championship victory on Sunday could provide the perfect ending not only to Beckham’s time in MLS, but to a three-year run by the Galaxy that has helped the team establish itself as a major player on the LA sports scene (as evidenced by the team’s recent $55 million TV deal). With a win, the span would go down as one of the best in three-year runs in MLS history.

There will be more on the line than a trophy on Sunday. Beckham’s legacy in MLS, and just as Beckham said the title would mean more to the franchise than himself, the legacy of the team he helped turn into a winner will be on the line as well.