It was all teed up for a Hollywood ending, but a couple of misplaced spot kicks meant David Beckham failed to get his hands on transatlantic football's highest honour on Sunday night, when his Los Angeles Galaxy side were defeated by Real Salt Lake after extra time in the final of the MLS Cup.
The English player converted his own chance in the shoot-out, which followed a lively 1-1 draw, but could only watch from a huddle on the half-way line as his colleagues Jovan Kirovski, Landon Donovan and finally Edson Buddle missed, leaving the Galaxy 5-4 losers on penalties.
"I wouldn't say it's tougher to lose on penalties but it's Russian roulette, it's not a nice way to lose but that's the way it is. The people that step up are brave enough to step up and if you score, great, and if you miss it's hard to take," said Beckham afterwards, vowing: "I'll be back next year to win the trophy."
To do that, the 34-year-old will first have to navigate the second year of a loan deal with Milan before, he hopes, travelling to South Africa with England's World Cup squad. He'll also have to steer clear of injury which has plagued much of his American career.
A sore foot had caused problems in the run-up to Sunday's fixture. Beckham looked steady enough, if slightly short of pace, but admitted later that he'd been in some pain. "I had three injections in my ankle and it wore off after about 15 minutes," he said. "It got worse and worse during the game, but that's what happens when you've got an injury like that."
The game in Seattle was the final of the MLS's post-season play-offs, in which the top eight sides in the sport's two regional leagues compete in a knock-out tournament. No-one would accuse it of being an instant classic – an artificial pitch made wet by rain put paid to that – but it was a decent enough advertisement for this most un-American of sports.
The Galaxy had been favourites going into the game, and a crowd of more than 42,000, one of the biggest in MLS final history, expected them to ease to victory over an unglamorous Salt Lake team. Instead, LA allowed their scrappy opponents to fight their way back into the game after dominating the early stages and going ahead on 41 minutes when Beckham set Donovan free on the right-hand edge of the area, and watched him swing a pinpoint cross to Mike Magee. Salt Lake scored a lucky equaliser through Robbie Findley on 64 minutes, and after that had the best of the chances.
The result was a disappointment for the marketing gurus behind Major League Soccer, who had hoped to see Beckham and his popular attacking partner, Donovan, lifting the comically named Philip F Anschutz trophy.
Beckham will be an important part of the league, and Galaxy's future, provided he remains fit. He was using an asthma inhaler during the latter stages of the game, but remains dangerous from dead-ball situations, tucked away his shoot-out penalty, and caused consistent problems from corners.Reuse content