It’s the LA Galaxy’s big chance.
Similar to last year’s Real Salt Lake side that sensed the moment and kept a core of players intact to reach the brink of international glory, the Galaxy can go into 2012 needing only minor tweaks to a tried-and-trusted formula to make a serious run at the CONCACAF Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup.
And that’s all because David Beckham is back.
Had Beckham decided to move on, it would have required LA manager Bruce Arena to overhaul things, maybe devise an entirely new style of play for the club. And Arena would have had merely a month to rework his game plan with the first quarterfinal leg against Toronto FC around the corner on March 7.
Landon Donovan may wear the captain’s armband, but Beckham was the one who set the tone on the field for LA in 2011. His service and vision were the creative inspiration for the Galaxy’s attack. His tackling, his gamesmanship and mere presence gave the champs their bite. Simply put, it's a different game when Beckham’s in the lineup.
Many will point to Beckham’s age – he will turn 38 in the final year of this new two-year contract – and wonder how effective he can continue to be. But we have to believe Arena will be judicious with his star midfielder’s playing time in the next two years.
The Galaxy need 25 solid games from him over the next 11 months – that's two or so every month: six or fewer in the upcoming CCL knockout rounds, three in the group stage of the next edition of CCL (home games), five in the playoffs and maybe another 10 during the regular season.
And toss in a couple more for the FIFA Club World Cup in December because that’s where the Galaxy plan to be. The investment in Beckham since his arrival in 2007 was meant to achieve precisely that: a place on the world stage.
No matter which European club shows up for a Club World Cup that features the Galaxy, Beckham would be the center of attention. Father Time can do nothing to diminish his star power. He is already set to be the main attraction at the Olympics, where planet earth will be reminded that he plays with the LA Galaxy.
But back in the USA, last year’s MLS Cup trophy and the last two Supporters' Shield are the silverware that carry his fingerprints. His on-field legacy in the States is written in pen right now, but it can be etched in stone if he can lead the Galaxy to international success -- a CONCACAF Champions League trophy, which would be the first for a US-based club.
And Beckham will have Donovan by his side to do it. Both their contracts are now set to expire at the same time, at the conclusion of the 2013 season. Together they have the potential of making this Galaxy team the first name that jumps to mind when you think of the all-time best MLS clubs. They’re not in that discussion just yet. All it takes is the CCL.
That’s the hard part. The rest will continue to come naturally for Beckham. Media members will keep falling over themselves for a chance at a quote. Fans will be charmed in markets across the country. Sponsors will throw money at him, and there just might be another owner who steps forward for an MLS expansion side, moved by Beckham's aura.
And kids across the USA will continue to be inspired, just like MLS No. 1 SuperDraft pick Andrew Wenger:
“I grew up being a Manchester United fan and David Beckham was big when I was younger,” Wenger confessed last week. “As stereotypical as it is, I enjoy watching him.”
Good for Andrew for admitting that. Watching Beckham play is indeed enjoyable. But watching him win is imperative. Although the MLS Cup 2011 victory has washed away some of the early memories, there’s still lost time to make up for the abbreviated seasons of 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Don’t bet against Beckham as he plays out the final two years of a legendary career. There may be plenty of drama, some intrigue and a bit of controversy to everything he touches, but the Hollywood script seems to always play out with Beckham coming out on top.
Galaxy fans will hope that means Champions League hardware in the trophy room.