November 30, 2012
THE LONG GOODBYE
Beckham's departure, Donovan's possible retirement overshadow MLS Cup
By Michael Lewis
|Landon Donovan's final game could come on Saturday.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
CARSON, Calif. -- One era will come to an end on Saturday and another just might be over as well.
David Beckham will play in his final game for the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.
Landon Donovan is mulling retirement and the MLS Cup final between the Galaxy and Houston Dynamo could very well be his swan song from professional soccer.
In many respects, as in their illustrious careers, both stars have overshadowed the run-up to MLS Cup (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET).
But then again, both players have cast their own shadows and made their own unique impact on the game in the United States.
Donovan, 30, is considered the best and most influential American player and his resume backs it up. He has scored more goals (49 in 144 international matches) than any U.S. player and performed in three World Cups, while scoring one of the most dramatic goals in U.S. WC history. He also is gunning for his fifth Major League Soccer championship.
Beckham, 37, forged his reputation across the pond, mostly with England. He might not be anywhere near the best player on the planet, but his deadly accurate free kicks and his ability to set up teammates with long balls, combined with a worldwide marketing machine, have made his name, the Galaxy and even MLS much better known to the general and even non-sports fans in the United States.
A member of the Galaxy since 2007, Beckham isn't ready to retire just yet. He wants to play one more year, although his next destination remains a mystery. Take your pick from Australia, China or France (Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco among the rumored).
A member of several English Premier League championship sides with Manchester United, Beckham would love to leave the game on a winning note.
ďIt could be a really nice way to bow out, but I do believe Iíve still got another challenge inside me," he said. "I do feel like I can still play, I donít know how many years left but I do feel like I can still play. Iíve had an amazing time; Iíve had an amazing time playing here for the last six years.
"Last year felt like the right time to step away because it was the end of my five-year contract, winning the championship in my last year in our stadium in front of our own fans, it kind of felt right to leave. I discussed it with my family and I just felt like I had some unfinished business here and rightly so because I came into this season and going through to the MLS Cup Final now it feels right, it feels like the right time and thatís why I came to the decision. As for the future, I said last week that Iíve got some interesting and exciting options on the table. Iím very flattered by some of the options Iíve got, so yeah, I still feel like I can play and I still am not considering retiring.Ē
Donovan did not get off on the right foot with Beckham, which was chronicled in Grant Wahl's The Beckham Experiment. But once Beckham became acclimated to southern California, he was accepted. This is the Galaxy's third appearance in four years in the MLS Cup.
"I think there's no doubt that David been an overwhelming success both on the field and off the field and also within in our locker room and our organization," Donovan said. "I certainly value his opinion and he has been through a lot more than the rest of us in all walks of life. When he has something to say or he has input it's valued. What you guys see from week to week is one part. But what he has meant to this team on the inside has been fantastic. And we're grateful for him."
On the flip side is Donovan, who wants to take some time off to see if he still has the desire to play. He has done just about everything a U.S. player can do, except play regularly in Europe (he did have a pair of unsuccessful stints with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and won rave reviews for his performance as a loan player with Everton in England).
Donovan did not want to talk about his situation on Friday. When asked about himself mentally and physically, Donovan replied: "We can talk about that at another time. We're excited for tomorrow."
But Beckham weighed in a day prior and he did not want to see his teammate retire from the game so early.
"Landonís a great player, heís a great talent," he said. "Heís a special talent in this team and a special talent in this country. And heís still young. So I personally hope that he doesnít stop playing, because I believe that heís still got a good few years left in him. Whether he needs a break, whether he need to just step away from the game for a while and then come back, but 30 years old is still young.
"I hope he continues, so letís hope this is not his last game and lets hope that when he spoke about he didnít have the hunger like he used to, letís home that was just a moment that he had because from what Iíve seen when heís on the training field and on the field the hungerís still there to me. So I hope a talented player like him continues to play for this club.Ē
If the Galaxy prevails, Donovan will tie former MetroStars defender Jeff Agoos for the most MLS Cup rings. Agoos won with D.C. United and the San Jose Earthquakes.
Donovan admitted on Friday that at one time he took winning championships for granted as he played for San Jose's title teams in 2001 and 2003.
"I was very fortunate early on to be a part of some really good teams and I think the years from '06 through '09 really taught me to appreciate how hard it is to win and get to this point," Donovan said. "I did probably take it for granted early on."