WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama welcomed the LA Galaxy to the White House on Tuesday afternoon to commemorate their MLS Cup 2011 championship, offering warm praise and a level of friendliness and familiarity that wowed even the most experienced members of the squad.
Speaking to a packed crowd in the historic building’s sumptuous Palm Room, the president described the exploits of a glitzy, title-winning team which overcame a range of obstacles to fulfill their substantial potential in fairly dominant fashion last season. Yet while he mentioned leading lights Robbie Keane, David Beckham and Landon Donovan, the nation’s Chief Executive also hailed LA’s important role players like Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza.
“The big names came through in the clutch, but they didn’t do it alone," President Obama said. "For a group with so much firepower, this team shone on defense, recording 17 shutouts. Together you pulled off one of the toughest feats in team sports: you lived up to the hype. You combined star power, hard work and it paid off.”
While events of this type can often feel formal and fleeting, Obama showed sincere comfort with the team and knowledge of both the sport and the league, which gave the trip extra meaning for Donovan and his teammates.
“It makes you realize that people care, people take notice,” said the Galaxy captain. “At the end of the day, we’re just playing a soccer game, so I get it, there are a lot more important things going on in the world. But it’s still cool to know that you inspire people and people care about what you’re doing.
“He’s probably become a soccer fan,” Donovan added in reference to the president. “You could tell that it’s not someone just writing and telling him what to say. You could tell he genuinely knows what’s going on and hopefully we keep it up – we want to keep him on board.”
The president singled out Beckham for extra ribbing, introducing the 37-year-old Englishman as “a young up-and-comer on the team” before cracking a string of jokes about Beckham's age compared to his younger teammates, his well-known status as a domesticated father and even his line of fashionable underwear.
“It was funny. Embarrassing, but funny,” noted Beckham with a grin as he spoke to members of the media in the White House’s China Room after the presidential audience. “[Obama] made a few comments, actually, about me today: the underwear, being a dad to some of the kids, and also my facial hair. He’s very charismatic, he’s a huge character and it’s a huge honor for us to meet him today.”
Beckham, like the rest of the room, was overcome with laughter by Obama’s teasing, though he later struck a pensive note as he considered this latest milestone on his long journey since arriving on American shores in 2007.
“It’s amazing. It’s a huge honor for every one of the players, the club, the franchise, to be invited here after the championship,” he said. “And I think it’s an amazing tradition to have as well, for teams to be able to come here. Because you come out of meeting the president, and it’s a motivation – it motivates you to want to come back next year. I hope we do, because it’s a great day, a proud day for all of us.”