David Beckham is in his fifth and final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Since making the move from Europe to MLS, Beckham has gotten more than his fair share of criticism. Many people doubt his outspoken intentions on growing soccer in America, and say he is only in this to build the "Beckham brand." Others have said he doesn't have "it" anymore, and can't perform at a top level in soccer.
Yes, moving to Los Angeles with his family was part of building the Beckham brand. It's not secret that his wife Victoria is huge in the fashion world, and living in LA is the perfect environment for her. And for David, it's a new market outside of Europe with people eager to see him and buy whatever he's selling--be it jerseys or cologne.
But there is much more to David Beckham than his global brand: he's an incredibly skilled soccer player. And as far as not having the stuff to hack it in professional soccer anymore, he proved last night that he is no where near ready for retirement. At 36 years old, Beckham looks more fit and focused than ever. Last night was proof of that.
The Galaxy took on the New York Red Bulls in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal on Thursday night at the Home Depot Center, and Beckham carried the team. After going down a goal early, the Galaxy looked shaken up. Add in a midfield that was missing Juninho, and didn't looking good early for LA.
But Beckham had other plans.
He quickly took the reins and controlled the midfield, distributing inch-perfect passes and feeding arcing crosses to his teammates. It was not long after Beckham started to control pace of the game that he contorted his back going up for a ball with New York's Dane Richards. It was an awkward challenge, but Beckham seemed to be alright. He wasn't.
At about the 30 minute mark, Beckham collapsed on the pitch, grabbing his lower back. The stadium lost its collective breath. He got back up, tried to play on, but buckled over again just a few minutes later. The trainers came out to help him off the field, and my heart sank seeing him struggle. He was holding both his back and his head, and looked incredibly shaky, barely able to walk on his own.
At first, I feared it was a concussion. All the symptoms were there; he looked dizzy, blinking his eyes like crazy, could hardly walk without stumbling, and just overall looked completely dazed (a post-game comment from Beckham revealed it was back spasms, no concussion). After a trip to the sideline, and a quick sniff of the magical smelling salts, Beckham was back on this pitch looking rejuvenated. His re-entry into the game was met by a massive roar from the crowd, and his newly attained spark seemed to wake them up too.
Beckham played like a rock star for the rest of the game. He was clearly in pain--doubling over throughout the match, but fought through the back spasms to lead the Galaxy to victory. It was his corner kick that Mike Magee headed into the back of the net to give the Galaxy the game-tying goal. That was all they needed to move on to the Western Conference Final, but captain Landon Donovan finished the Red Bulls off with a penalty kick in the second half, putting the game to bed for good.
Beckham put his body on the line and fought through excruciating pain to push his team through to the next round of playoffs, something not many players would do. So I don't want to hear that David Beckham isn't in love with the game of soccer and this team, that he doesn't want to help MLS grow in the US, or that he doesn't have "it" anymore. Last night's heroic performance disproved all of that.