Beckham eyes MLS glory

2011-11-03 10:51

Carson - If David Beckham's five-year football odyssey in the United States is about to end, he'll go out playing at his highest level in five years.

The English superstar hasn't decided where he'll play next season, but he's determined to lead the Los Angeles Galaxy to an MLS championship this month.

"Obviously, if you look at statistics and the games I've played, it is the best season since I moved to LA," Beckham said Wednesday after the Galaxy prepared for the home leg of their playoff matchup with New York.

"It's nice to have that at 36 years old, because people start to doubt you, but it's the best season I've had since I moved here. The management, the team, everything has been set up perfectly. It's been a great year."

Beckham's groundbreaking MLS contract expires next month, and even if he isn't in the mood for career evaluation just yet, the midfielder realizes he can't stop fans from speculating on his future, whether it's in Paris, London or back in Hollywood. His mission to invigorate football in North America has been neither a complete success nor a total failure, but Beckham is enjoying this moment - the chance to play at his peak abilities alongside Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and their Galaxy team-mates.

After winning the Supporters' Shield for finishing top of the MLS table, Los Angeles can advance to the Western Conference final with a win or draw against the Red Bulls on Thursday night at Home Depot Centre, where the Galaxy haven't lost all season long.

If the Galaxy gets through, the Western Conference final will be on Sunday night, followed by the MLS Cup in two weeks - also on the Galaxy's home pitch.

Beckham provided the assist for Mike Magee's goal last weekend in Los Angeles' opening-leg win over Thierry Henry's Red Bulls, adding to a remarkable season in which he finished second in MLS with a career-best 15 assists.

After a loan spell at AC Milan and enduring long recoveries from injury during previous seasons in Los Angeles, Beckham has been in the Galaxy's line-up all season, a major factor in his superb form.

"He has demonstrated his quality all year long," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said.

"I don't think he would ever need to prove he was worth bringing here. He's done great things for this franchise and great things for this league. I'm happy it's turning out this way for David. ... Just his presence on the field is going to make a difference to our team. He's a special player with a wealth of experience. I think our team can depend on David."

Yet Beckham can't go anywhere without people wondering whether he'll stay in California - and by extension, neither can Arena.

"These are the same questions that come up every year, regardless of his contract status," Arena said. "I'm sure if David wanted to be here next year, he would be here."

If international football were governed by North American-style "tampering" rules, a good chunk of Europe's top clubs would have to pay astronomical fines for openly coveting Beckham's services.

Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League sides Tottenham and Queens Park Rangers have all cited Beckham as an ideal acquisition, with PSG currently receiving the most ardent speculation after sporting director Leonardo revealed his serious interest last month.

Yet the Galaxy hasn’t given up hopes of keeping Beckham for at least another year, if not the rest of his career. Tim Leiweke, the president of Galaxy owners AEG, has repeatedly said he thinks Beckham will stay in Los Angeles, and Donovan says the Galaxy players are assuming Beckham will be back firing passes over the middle again next year.

Donovan has experience in choosing lifestyle over cutthroat competition after previous career stops in the German Bundesliga and Everton.

"His ability to pass the ball is better than anybody in this league, and better than a lot of people in the world," said Donovan, the U.S. national team star who scored 12 goals for Los Angeles this season.

"When he gets an opportunity in time and space to make a play, he can do it."

Beckham's wife, Victoria, the former Spice Girl turned fashion designer and style icon, would seem right at home in Paris or Milan, but it's clear the Beckhams and their four children love living in LA, with its perfect weather, international flair and casual attitude toward celebrity.

Their oldest children attend school near their palatial home in Beverly Hills, and Beckham's sons - Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz - clearly enjoy having the run of Home Depot Centre, often sitting in their dad's locker playing hand-held video games after the Galaxy's matches.

And while preparation for a run at Britain's Olympic team could factor into Beckham's decision, its clear the Beckhams still have a celebrity that transcends location after the family's half-decade stateside. David Beckham's income from personal sponsorship deals rose an astonishing 30 percent to nearly $24 million in 2010, according to Britain's Companies House.

"There are always new goals," Beckham said.

"There are a lot of things that I've enjoyed here, and will continue to enjoy."