By Dave JohnsonCSNwashington.com
Los Angeles -- Where there is smoke, there is fire. The LA Galaxys 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo to claim MLS Cup 2011 at Home Depot Center triggered post game fireworks. The smoke rising from the post-game celebrations towered over the 1-405 freeway despite the rain and the mist of the California night.
Major League Soccer has made it through its own storms and is on fire. The Galaxys Hollywood ending to the leagues most successful season has only added fuel to that fire. This is a league built for America and Landon Donovan, the face of the mens game in this country, scored the decisive goal with a little help from his imported friends.
It was fitting that David Beckham started the goal sequence. The always battling Beckham was able to flick the ball to Irish international Robbie Keane who then set the stage for Donovan with a precision through ball. Donovan, as he has so often done, calmly handled the pressure of charging Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall and finished.
So Donovan was the hero, but the night was in some circles billed as a referendum on the Beckham experiment. Many suggested that Beckham needed to win last nights game to justify the money and time spent on him over the last five seasons. Sundays result added to Beckham legacy, but did not change the impact he already made here.
There were a couple of times Beckham had a chance to really add to the Hollywood script with one his signature free kicks, but his best opportunity was parried over the crossbar by Hall. Beckham provided both quality and commitment to the Galaxy. He was not in the United States on a vacation.
Beckham led MLS with 11 yellow cards this season, including one in MLS Cup, but in no way is a dirty player. Beckham can play the piano and carry it too. With skill Beckham also used good old fashioned grit and determination to become a champion again at 36 years of age. Beckhams future in MLS is uncertain, but like he did with Manchester United and Real Madrid he ended his contract a champion.
Beckham still could be back with the Galaxy, despite rumors he is destined for France and Paris St. Germain, and lets hope he is. As much as anything Beckham did on the field Sunday, I will always remember his effort in the 89th minute to battle for a 50-50 ball and then win a free kick. At one moment Beckham had the elegance of champagne and the next he had the substance and earthiness of an English lager.
This is a damn good year, it really is, said LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena. The words of Arena were perhaps the strongest endorsement of all. Arena is not one to lightly offer praise and has seen it all in U.S. soccer. In that sense it was also fitting that in a game under such a white-hot spotlight, Arena would also come through to earn his record third MLS title as a coach.
Arena was front and center in the trophy celebration and could be seen hugging Galaxy owner Phil Anschutz. The championship trophy is named for Anschutz who may be the most modest billionaire sports owner on the planet. Anschutzs sports properties also include Staples Center and the LA Kings, but in soccer he has more than earned a name on a trophy.
Like the late Lamar Hunt, who played a role in the start of the NASL and MLS, before him, Anschutz was the man with the vision to keep pro soccer going when it seemed like there was nothing to see on the horizon. Anschutz started quietly in MLS as owner of the Colorado Rapids. After 2001, Anschutz held the league together and laid the foundation for its current success.
It should also be noted that Anschutz owned D.C. United and tried to build a stadium in the District. Unfortunately it didnt happen and United fans can only look on with envy at what Anschutz has been able to do in not only LA but other MLS cities.
MLS Cup 2011 was a night that belonged to two personalities with the same commitment, but different styles. Anschutz is almost reclusive. Beckham is omnipresent. They deserved that moment and American soccer fans should be thankful for them.