MLS Cup Final
Los Angeles –
Throughout the regular season, teams can take it or leave it when it comes to winning and losing. Not so in the Cup Final. The memory of loss in the big game hangs around necks heavier than the runners-up medals handed out to the vanquished.
Yesterday’s MLS Cup Final in Los Angeles was billed as a farewell party for Los Angeles Galaxy’s David Beckham, soccer’s biggest star. He is used to winning. A runners-up medal was not to be part of the final act. It had to be a happy ending for the man with the golden touch.
Houston Dynamo stood in the way. They showed up determined to avenge their 1-0 loss in the 2011 Final to the Galaxy. The role of party spoilers was the added incentive. And for a while it looked as if the Texans would rob the hosts of the goodies. They took the lead into the locker room at halftime. But Beckham and his mates were not in the mood for an anti-climax. Beckham’s party had to go out with a bang.
Cue the Galaxy’s ace players. Omar Gonzalez pulled the score level to be followed by a Landon Donovan penalty strike. Speculation about Donovan’s future swirled around him prior to the final. He gave notice that he had lost the passion for playing. Was he heading for the soccer player retirement home at thirty years of age?
During a pre-game press conference, Donovan possessed a stare that could have melted kryptonite. Was it a fix into the heart of darkness? Not so. It was the clinical eye of a player who executes when the chips are down. Donovan slotted home his penalty and the Galaxy crowd erupted. The hugs of his teammates squeezed him tight. At least for one night longer, Donovan ‘s star power shone.
It was left to Irishman Robbie Keane to put Houston to the sword. He slotted home his penalty kick, earned by forcing the defender to trip him. Keane is the real deal. Coaches love him for his pace and harpoon striking skills. He fills nets with goals. Defenders fear him.
The hardness of Robbie Keane comes from his days playing Gaelic football as a kid growing up in Ireland. Ireland’s traditional sport resembles a fusion of soccer and rugby. It is not for whiners.
When asked how Gaelic football contributed to his skills as a soccer player, “toughness” was the answer.
The final whistle brought the Beckham era in Major League Soccer to a close. Wrapped in a Union Jack, this Englishman abroad lapped up the adulation of his American fans. He pledged to continue his “commitment to the league, the sport and this country.” The Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack were united for a soccer moment.