Monday, December 3, 2012

The MLS Cup Final: It's about Beckham

David Beckham: The son of two worlds
In the 91st minute of Saturday's final, with LA leaning agonizingly forward toward the finish line with a 2-1 lead, David Beckham lined up for a free kick some 40 yards from Tally Hall's line. The camera cut to Becks, who almost immediately leveled his gaze toward the tops of his shoes. His eyes red and watery, he issued a small cough, brushed his million-dollar hair to the side and looked very near tears.

Seconds later, as if sensing the gravity of the moment, the the camera flashed to a fan holding up an oversized "LA loves Beckham" sign. Five minutes later, as Beckham celebrated a cup for a second straight year, dancing and laughing with a team that has finally felt like a team the last two years and not just Beckham and some dudes, a strange thing happened. Nearly the entire stadium engaged in a "Thank You Beckham" chant, which wreathed the Home Depot Center in this bizarre glow of affirmation that The Beckham Experiment blowback couldn't kill, that pockets of soccer xenophobia couldn't extinguish, that endured through six topsy-turvy years that writers will struggle to put into perspective for years to come.

But that's just Beckham, isn't it? As those un-ironic chants whipped up and down to the field, it was hard not to feel a twinge of admiration for the league itself, which has come so far under Beckham's at-times watchful, at-times defiantly opaque attitude. Here MLS had embraced a man that had, finally, embraced MLS himself. It was a sentimental moment. Dynamo fans would be hard-pressed to agree. I will expect several sharpened scimitars this week to be lobbed at AEG by Dynamo fans, who have put the full court press on the abandoned, neglected, forsaken moniker as LA's little stepbrother. Nevermind that this makes little sense. It is the purview of the losing team to gripe about whatever there is to gripe about, and it is not a thing I would dare take away.

But as much as I didn't want it to be, as much as I wanted this game to be about tactical nuance and Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia and Sean Franklin and the stone-cold certainty of the 4-4-2 — and it was, but only to a degree — Saturday was about Beckham. Even Donovan's bizarrely foggy future could not hold a candle to the aging, dirty pirate behind him. The most useful thing Donovan did on Saturday, aside from hitting his penalty, was to shave his natty beard.

Beckham more or less did exactly what I expected. What I did not expect was for Houston to stack its deep midfield on a shelf instead of layering Rico Clark on top of Adam Moffat, as I gently suggested earlier last week, to push up on Beckham and force him to unload quicker. This did not happen. Instead, Clark and Moffat played on a line, and Houston relied upon Boniek Garcia inside to make probing runs and then track back to help take care of Beckham. The problem here is that Beckham doesn't play high enough upfield to cross into the sphere of influence Kinnear created with Rico and Moffat spending a lot of the game tethered together in Houston's half. So Houston was forced to rely too heavily on Garcia. Rico would've been a perfect marker for Becks. He's been a noted holding mid in the past, but he's shown equanimity in more forward positions this year, which would've made him Houston's best bet to close ground on Beckham and force the doddering old man to keep the ball on the ground. As you saw, Rico followed Beckham but not nearly enough. He had space for days.

Carr's goal at the close of the first half was a deserved reward for a half the Dynamo carried, but LA's pressure in the second stanza was too much. And Beckham's deep sniping helped cement it. LA's game plan was to have Donovan and Keane hoof it into the box and let Beckham and Juninho pick out spaces with deep balls. Many of these were uncontested, including Juninho's poised feed to Omar Gonzalez for the tying header. Look at the scads of space Moffat has afforded him here.

And so it went with Beckham. LA was content to pump balls in deep, and Houston was content to let them. And so went the game and Beckham's MLS career. He was wistful after the game without being blubbery, but it was clear that Becks' MLS experience perhaps surprised even him with the depth of its impact. Here was a Galactico, a Red Devil, striding into MLS with all the answers and just follow me to freedom, please and thank you. Things have changed, softened even, to a degree that cannot be wholly unsurprising to Beckham himself.

Beckham entered MLS to fanfare and caustic notes alike. He leaves chastened and with the respect, if not the adoration, of a grateful fan base. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm not ashamed to do so either; We'll miss you, Becks.

- Will Parchman


Matt said...

He hit an absolutely absurd pass in the 52nd minute, a half-volley, 45 yard laser that dropped right in front of Robbie, at full steam, that was just magic. I'll miss Becks, and passes like that, for a long time.

Bryan said...

Yes! Was sitting in the Dynamo corner and had the perfect view of that pass. Sublime.