David Beckham has made a habit of going out on top.
Beckham left Manchester United a Premier League winner in 2003, Real Madrid after conquering La Liga in 2007, and on Saturday night, he said goodbye to LA Galaxy with the MLS Cup triumph his legacy demanded.
It was just one game, but the significance of Beckham winning a second title in MLS will loom large in the way his Galaxy quest is viewed in years to come.
Two years ago, the most expensive import in the league's history was struggling to justify himself as a footballer. He stood accused of failing to deliver on both Galaxy's investment and the enormous hype that came with it.
He could have walked, but Beckham was not going out that way. In 2011, he produced his best season in MLS and was hugely influential as Galaxy drove to the title. A year later he made it two in a row as Galaxy fought back to beat Houston Dynamo 3-1 at the Home Depot Center.
In added time, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena withdrew his biggest star to take in the fulsome appreciation of a crowd that—in part at least—once doubted him. They don't doubt him anymore and neither should we.
The influence of brand Beckham on the commercial appeal of the MLS has never been in question, but with two titles to show for his six seasons at Galaxy, we can now say Beckham has also delivered as a player.
"I'm sad it's the end," Beckham told ESPN afterwards. "It's been a special place for me. It will continue to be a special place for me... I'm happy I've been successful at the club and I'm very thankful for that."
For a while it seemed Beckham might end up regretting his decision to stay one more season in Los Angeles. Dynamo were the better side for the first 45 and deservedly went ahead when Calen Carr ran free, held off his marker and shot—too easily—past Josh Saunders on the stroke of halftime.
Galaxy had wasted two fine chances of their own, both of which owed a debt to passes from Beckham.
The midfielder released Robbie Keane on 13 minutes with a trademark raking ball from right to left, but when Keane set up Landon Donovan for the simplest of finishes, the striker fluffed his lines.
Five minutes later, Mike Magee met a whipped Beckham free-kick close in, but could only direct his crouching header across the face of goal.
Galaxy had failed to convince, but should still have been leading. Whatever was wrong, Arena managed to fix it at the break, and his team emerged far improved for the second halftime—equalizing through Omar Gonzalez's powerful header on the hour-mark.
Soon after, Beckham's disguised free-kick led to an acrobatic shot from Magee and the award of a penalty for handball against Ricardo Clark. Donovan stepped up, and the MLS Cup was as good as won with his calm shot into the bottom corner.
Beckham would have his fairytale ending, and it almost came with a goal when he slid in at the far post late on.
There was still time for Keane to make it 3-1 from the penalty spot in added time, before Arena gave Beckham his moment and a fitting finale for five years of service that have changed the MLS forever.
As Galaxy's No. 23 left the field for the last time, he did so knowing he has taken the club to places that would never have been possible without him, and that he will forever be remembered as the man who brought the revolution.
He'll return soon enough, maybe as their owner. But until then, Beckham—footballer, gentleman, global brand and man of many hairstyles—will be sorely missed.
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