Photo by David Bernal/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
CARSON, Calif. — A game of word association to quantify David Beckham's five years in Major League Soccer certainly arouses a wide range of responses depending on which part of the Beckham Era is being discussed.
Hope. Promise. Expectations. Disappointment. Loans. Injuries. Conflict. Comeback. Delivery. Catalyst. Champion.
After helping guide the Los Angeles Galaxy to their third MLS Cup title Sunday night, Beckham's American journey came full circle, fulfilling the on-field potential that he represented when signing with the league in 2007.
"It's been an amazing five years," Beckham said following the Galaxy's 1-0 triumph over the Houston Dynamo. "This has been the most enjoyable time of my career here in America, and this has just topped it off."
The expectations for a Galaxy dynasty after Beckham's signing may have been a bit hyperbolic, especially considering where the Galaxy were as a franchise when he was thrown into the mix. Even though his signing with the league could be considered a success from an off-field perspective, it's now been validated from a performance standpoint.
"For a guy like David, people tend to look at the salary and think that it should be a championship every year," now-retired Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter said. "He needs a good supporting cast around him, and I think that's the most important thing that (Galaxy coach Bruce Arena) did was to build that and bring guys in around him that can complement him and play with him and showcase his talents."
His talents, both as a leader and a player, came through this season unlike in any other of his MLS campaigns. Beckham revealed after Sunday's final that he played through a torn hamstring. Throughout the season he battled back spasms. Given multiple opportunities to come up with excuses to remain off the field down the stretch, the 36-year-old Beckham displayed the qualities that would actually merit the captain's armband instead of the one given to him upon his arrival in MLS that was based on entitlement and reputation alone.
"The way David has played through some really serious injuries the past few weeks inspired me a lot," said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, who himself struggled with injuries over the last couple of months and saw his personal relationship with Beckham evolve immensely over the years.
While Beckham's commitment to MLS and the Galaxy has come into question during his tenure in MLS — he publicly expressed his desire to have a loan to AC Milan turn into a permanent move two years ago — his dedication in 2011 proved that his signing with MLS was about much more than him just being the ultimate marketing tool to increase the league's global exposure and put fans in the seats.
"David is a champion," Arena said. "I've been around great athletes and competitors in my life in different sports, and this guy is as good as it comes. He has an unbelievable desire to win. He's done it all now — in every country he's been in."
Next on the docket for Beckham is determining whether he'll be adding another country to his decorated career, or if he'll continue as a member of MLS.
Beckham has been bombarded with questions about his future for months, and he addresses them with stoic poise despite being forced to repeat himself over and over again.
According to press in England and France, he's as good as gone to Paris-St. Germain, where he might be able to add another championship in another country's top flight to his resume while also having another shot at playing in the UEFA Champions League. Beckham himself insists he has yet to speak with PSG and that no decision about his future has been made.
"Of course people are always going to speculate," Beckham said. "People did it the first year I was with Real Madrid. I was going to Chelsea every weekend. That's happened throughout my career.
"I need to sit back, relax and enjoy this moment and then decide what I want to do. I might talk in past tense every now and then, but it doesn't mean I'm not coming back. At the end of the day I need to decide what's best for me, what's best for the team and my family, and then we'll see."
In an interview on the Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday, Beckham said that he and his family will be celebrating Thanksgiving at the house of Tim Leiweke, president of Galaxy owner AEG and an instrumental figure in bringing Beckham to the United States.
Whether that meeting turns out to be nothing more than a delicious feast or as significant as a step toward a new Galaxy contract remains to be seen.
If Beckham moves on, then his MLS story got its Hollywood ending. If he stays, it only fortifies the Galaxy as overwhelming favorites heading into 2012. Whatever Beckham chooses for the next step in his career, he has Arena's backing.
"I think he's got three choices: He stays at L.A., he plays elsewhere or he doesn't play again. Whatever he decides to do, I support 100 percent," Arena said. "He's earned that. If he decides to get onto his horse and ride into the sunset and go elsewhere or retire, I'm all for it. He's earned the right to make the kind of decision he wants to make for him and his family."