David Beckham's days with the LA Galaxy are done, but it's anyone's guess where he's off to next.
The Galaxy revealed in a release Monday that the 37-year-old face of the franchise will leave the club after appearing in the MLS Cup on December 1, bringing a sudden end to a six-year stay in Los Angeles that saw the English soccer icon firmly plant his flag on American soil and help the Galaxy become the most successful MLS franchise of the past four years.
"I've had an incredibly special time playing for the LA Galaxy, however, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career," Beckham said. "I don't see this as the end of my relationship with the league as my ambition is to be part of the ownership structure in the future."
Beckham spurned a lucrative contract to join French club Paris Saint-Germain and opted in January to instead ink a one-year deal with an option to return to the the Galaxy in 2013, but Monday's announcement abruptly ends his storied MLS career, and closes a chapter that saw the former Manchester United star usher the league into a new era of global superstars, booming contracts and unprecedented exposure.
Beckham’s final MLS game will provide him with the chance to exit stage left exactly where he started in 2007. The Galaxy will host the Dynamo in the MLS Cup at the Home Depot Center, where Beckham was introduced as the league’s first Designated Player in June 2007.
It’s unclear exactly where Beckham plans to go next, or even if he'll continue to play the game at all. Either way, he’ll certainly have a say in the future of MLS.
PHOTO GALLERY: David Beckham with LA Galaxy
Beckham’s contract with the league included a clause allowing him to become part of an expansion team ownership group, and he’ll almost certainly exercise that option as the league looks to expand in the future.
“When David Beckham signed with the LA Galaxy in 2007, he set out to help grow MLS and the sport of soccer in North America,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “There is no doubt that MLS is far more popular and important here and abroad than it was when he arrived. David has achieved great things on and off the field during his time with the Galaxy, and he will always be an important part of our history. We look forward to his continued involvement with the LA Galaxy and the league.”
It’s nearly impossible to string together a list of the moments of Beckham’s MLS career without missing a few. There was plenty of good (more than 66,000 fans at the old Giants Stadium in August 2007, a Best XI selection and the ensuing MLS Cup title in 2011) mixed with the bad (Landon Donovan’s criticism of Beckham in a 2009 tell-all book or a damning Achilles tendon tear while on loan with AC Milan in 2010), but this much was clear: with Beckham, it was never boring.
Tom Cruise grinning in a suite at LA Galaxy games in 2007. An absolute implosion and a coaching coup in 2008, when the Galaxy averaged more than 26,000 fans per game at the HDC but finished sixth in the Western Conference.
A “timeshare” loan deal with AC Milan in 2009, and a flameout in the MLS Cup later that year. Another chance wasted in 2010, when he healed from the Achilles injury in time only to see FC Dallas stun the Galaxy on their home turf in the Western Conference Championship.
And then in 2011, his best season as an individual and as a teammate: He earned his only Best XI selection after compiling MLS career highs in appearances (26) and assists (15), and he helped set up Donovan’s game-winning goal in the MLS Cup before celebrating with LA players and coaches into the wee hours of the morning in downtown Los Angeles.
He jawed with Jesse Marsch in the single best moment of the SuperClásico. He pinged San Jose's Sam Cronin with a ball from 25 yards in June and came perilously close to scrapping with the Quakes' mascot in a postgame shoving match. He missed an MLS game in Dallas in 2011 because he was a guest of honor at the biggest royal wedding in decades.
He rolled into the closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics with rock god Jimmy Page, and four years later brought the Olympic flame down the River Thames in London. He sat courtside at Los Angeles Lakers games. He adorned a Times Square billboard in nothing but his H&M underwear. He scored from 70 yards at The Home Depot Center and pounded home amazing goals to ruin nights in expansion markets like Portland and Montreal.
Beckham scored seven goals and nine assists in 24 appearances during the regular season this year, but he’s been relatively quiet on the stat sheets during his final MLS postseason. He picked up an assist in the team’s Knockout Round win over the Vancouver Whitecaps but has largely ceded the spotlight to the likes of Donovan and striker Robbie Keane, the latter of which scored his league-leading fifth goal of the postseason when the Galaxy clinched the MLS Cup berth on Sunday in Seattle.
“Seldom does an athlete redefine a sport and David not only took our franchise to another level but he took our sport to another level,” said Tim Leiweke, President and CEO of AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group). “It has been an honor and privilege to be a part of his world, and more importantly, to have him be a part of ours.”