Nearly, but not quite; David Beckham came within a couple of misplaced spot-kicks of being able to lift transatlantic football’s highest honour last night, when his Los Angeles Galaxy were defeated by Real Salt Lake after extra time in the final of the MLS Cup.
The prospect of Beckham and his popular attacking partner, Landon Donovan, lifting the comically-named Philip Anschutz trophy on a lively night in Seattle would have represented a dream-come-true for Major League Soccer’s financial backers. But they fell tantalisingly short, going down 5-4 in sudden death penalties.
Salt Lake’s goalkeeper, Nick Rimando, made two saves from unconvincing Galaxy efforts, and saw a crucial effort from Donovan balloon over the bar in the shoot-out, which wasn’t settled until the seventh pair of kicks. The game had finished 1-1 in normal time, and an extra thirty minutes failed to produce any goals.
A crowd of more than 40,000, one of the biggest in the history of MLS finals, had expected to see Los Angeles ease to victory over an unglamorous Salt Lake team who lost more games than they’d won during the regular season, and boast a combined income that amounts to a quarter of Beckham’s $5.5m [£3.4m] basic salary.
The Galaxy duly controlled the first half, on an artificial pitch made slick by heavy rain, and went ahead on 41 minutes when Beckham put Donovan free on the right-hand edge of the area, and watched him swing a pinpoint cross onto the right foot of Mike Magee, at the far post.
They failed to put their scrappy opponents away, though, and got their comeuppance on 64 minutes when Salt Lake’s Robbie Findley, who posed a threat all night, was the beneficiary of a lucky deflection in a crowded penalty area, and blasted home a short-range equaliser.
After that, Salt Lake grew in stature, and began to control possession. They had the better of the late chances, hitting the side netting twice. Their striker Andy Williams, came within a misjudged first touch of getting a winner in the final minute of extra time. Yura Movsysian also missed a one-on-ione chance late on.
Galaxy, by contrast, began to defend too deeply, and relied on swift counter-attacking moves for the best of their chances. Most expensively, they allowed Salt Lake’s goalkeeper to control the tempo of the penalty shoot-out.
It was a frustrating end to a topsy-turvy season for Beckham, who began the year by disappearing to Milan for several months in order to increase his chances of an England slot. His return, half way through the MLS fixture list, had met with boos and chants of “fraud” from the terraces, together with a public altercation with a Galaxy fan.
After that wobbly start, however, the 34-year-old worked hard to regain the affections of supporters, and helped drag the team emerge from mid-table obscurity to win eight and draw four of their 15 competitive fixtures, finishing on top of the MLS’s Western Division.
They eased confidently past their first two opponents in the post-season playoffs, a knock-out tournament involving MLS’s top eight sides. Although Beckham seems occasionally short of pace, and was using an asthma inhaler periodically during the later stages of last night’s game, he remains dangerous from a dead-ball situation, scored his shootout penalty well, and caused consistent problems from corners.
He will be going back to Milan this winter, on a similar loan deal to last year, and hopes to also have a role in England’s plans at next summer’s World Cup in Paris. However in his post-match press conference, he gamely promised US journalists: “I’ll be back next year to win the trophy.”