CARSON, Calif. (AP) — David Beckham wraps up his six seasons with the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday in the MLS Cup.
He just hopes fans realize they’ll miss an excellent game if all eyes are focused only on him.
Los Angeles goes after its second straight MLS title in a rematch with the Houston Dynamo, who lost 1-0 to the Galaxy last season at Home Depot Center. The field was soaked with rain last year, and it’s likely to be soggy again this weekend.
They’re perfect conditions for the Galaxy’s attempt at replicating last season’s result in a watershed game for their franchise and MLS, which is losing Beckham’s magnetic appeal after a half-decade of impressive league-wide growth.
“I know I’m quite an emotional person,” Beckham said. “I’m just really excited about the game, to be in a third MLS Cup final, especially the second one that’s being played in our own stadium. It’s going to be special. … I’m happy the team are in the position we are, and the reason we’ve done well this season is because we’re a complete team. We’ve got character.”
Los Angeles’ late-season run to another championship game has carried a certain sense of destiny for a franchise that’s in for big changes in the offseason. Beckham could be joined in departure by U.S. star Landon Donovan, who’s thinking about walking away from the Galaxy in an apparent mid-career case of burnout.
Even if the Galaxy’s core is breaking up, they’re eager to go out with the franchise’s fourth MLS Cup, tying D.C. United’s league record.
“It’s been quite a ride, and with one more win, it will all be worth it,” said Los Angeles defender Omar Gonzalez, who also might leave in the offseason. “We’re similar to last year, but they’re a totally different team. They’re going to be tough.”
All that uncertainty will be discarded for at least 90 minutes when the eighth-seeded Galaxy host ninth-seeded Houston in an unlikely final between veteran teams that gathered momentum at the perfect time, barreling through the playoffs with style after barely making the postseason.
“We’ve got two good attacking teams, and I expect some goals this year,” said Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena, who could win his fourth MLS title. “Last year’s final, poor weather conditions were a factor. This year should make for a more attractive game. Having a rerun of last year is kind of interesting, and certainly they’re going to have a lot of motivation. But so are we.”
While the world watches Beckham, the Dynamo believe they’re better prepared this year to spring an upset for their first title since 2007. Key Houston playmaker Brad Davis is healthy after missing the final last season with an injury, and the Dynamo have been every bit as impressive as the Galaxy lately.
“When Houston and L.A. got into the playoffs, I think a lot of teams weren’t happy about it,” said Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, who could win his third MLS Cup. “I think they saw something inside of us that’s going to make us difficult to knock out, and I think they thought the same thing about the Galaxy.”
Although Beckham is still the star attraction for one more game, the Galaxy increasingly belong to Robbie Keane, the Irish national team captain who scored 16 regular-season goals and five more in the playoffs during an outstanding first full season with the Galaxy. While Beckham and Donovan contemplate their futures, Keane confirmed he isn’t going anywhere after playing for his second MLS Cup in his short stateside tenure.
Donovan swatted away questions about his future in both English and Spanish on Friday, claiming he’s focused only on the match. The Galaxy are hopeful he’ll return after a break — and particularly with the motivation of another title defense alongside Keane and whatever third designated player Los Angeles lands in the next few months, whether it’s Kaka, Frank Lampard or another big name.
The Dynamo aren’t on the Galaxy’s level in international cachet or payroll, but their consistent success is a model of clever coaching and judicious management by Kinnear and the front office. While the MLS Cup isn’t really a referendum on those two starkly different approaches to building a team, it’s yet another wrinkle of intrigue in the matchup.
Yet the day is likely to belong to Beckham, who hasn’t revealed where he’ll play next, or where he plans to invest as an MLS owner in the near future. After his rocky MLS arrival turned into an exemplary run under Arena’s leadership, the English midfielder hopes to finish up his tenure with a few more bending passes and one more trophy.
And the Dynamo are eager to spoil it all.
“We’re all happy and thankful for what David has done, but that’s not what makes the world go round,” said Davis, one of Beckham’s few MLS peers on setpieces and free kicks. “I was playing here before he came here, and hopefully I’ll be playing after he leaves.”