The MLS Cup final. The grand ending to a long 9 month slog of a season with only two teams left standing. A repeat of last year's final, who'll come out on top this time? So many storylines, but forget all that because that's not what Saturday's game is all about, this is DAVID BECKHAM'S LAST GAME IN MLS!
Yes the unnecessary announcement 2 weeks ago that this would be his finale in an LA Galaxy jersey has brought the predictable flurry of articles, gushing testimonials, merchandise and retrospectives on his time in MLS, and yes, here I am adding to it.
Basically we have no option but to roll out eyes and go along with it for a couple of reasons. One, the Beckham publicity machine seems to be an unstoppable juggernaut, and two, yes I'll grudgingly admit it's good for the league.
As much as I may not like the Beckham angle to much of the coverage, it's undeniable it's brought more coverage to the game than otherwise would have been the case, and that's been the case for the 6 years he's been playing in MLS, overall his presence has definitely been a positive thing, for the Galaxy and for the league.
It wasn't always like that though, in his early years in the league, his presence seemed a sideshow more than anything else, and one that he himself wasn't all that committed to. There were visible frustrations with the level of play and officiating in the league and run ins with supporters and his focus seemed still very much on Europe and his international career with England. Grant Wahl's The Beckham Experiment showed that his influence was by no means always a positive one within the Galaxy.
That did eventually change for the better and for me the turning point was what remains my favourite moment of his Galaxy career, if not the entire existence of MLS, back in July of 2009, when supporters group LA Riot Squad made their feelings known.
It had been bubbling up all year after 2 failed seasons and with Beckham once again missing the first half of the season to play with AC Milan, chants of 'we don't need no David Beckham' could be heard, and then he finally made his season debut, in a friendly against AC Milan.
There were banners telling him to go home, and proclaiming "Here Before, Here after, Here despite 23" and the game of course ended with Beckham confronting the fans. Here were MLS fans standing up for themselves, saying in effect 'we don't care who you are, if you're going to disrespect us, our team and our league by making such a half arsed commitment, you can fuck right off'.
It would be a bit much to call it a turning point, for Beckham and for LA the arrival of Bruce Arena and the ending of his England career were much more important in him taking things more seriously, and the league itself was already changing. Contraction had given way to expansion, soccer specific stadiums, the relaxing of the DP rules, the emergence of supporter culture, all of these things were all already happening.
It did have an effect though, as a Riot Squad member said in this Guardian article:
The Galaxy certainly wanted to hear what we had to say after that. I don't know if they thought we were all good and we were all friendly and cool prior to that, but they certainly had to hear what we had to say after that. And MLS wanted to hear and Garber wanted to understand what we had to say...
Most importantly, this was a highly visible milestone on that road to maturity and respect as a league, both within the worldwide football community and the North American sporting landscape, a demonstration on behalf of all supporters and the league itself that MLS was here to stay, was a serious league and not just the retirement home for superstars to finish their career in front of starstruck Europhiles.
As the league grows, the DP programme has evolved and now we have more teams signing DP's and often not going down the big name to sell tickets route. Sure, there are exceptions, and still some DP's who seem to think they're above all this, Rafa Marquez I'm looking at you. Mainly though, clubs are focusing on players who can help on the field, bringing in relatively unknown players such as Federico Higuain, or Oscar Boniek Garcia who'll be playing opposite Beckham on Saturday.
In his own way, despite multiple junkets off to England this year and the publicity machine still going at full speed, Beckham has become one of those players, taking things a lot more seriously and showing he can still have an impact on the pitch. He's had a good season, with some great goals, and he can obviously still draw a crowd as was shown when Montreal went all giddy for him at the Stade Olympique.
His MLS career will be looked back on as a success, and it may well end up with him walking away with the big shiny trophy at the end of it all, for the second straight year, which I'm sure the league would love to see. For me though, the best moment of his time here, his biggest contribution, was inspiring the realisation that MLS didn't need him, it's a league that's ready to stand on it's own feet. he had a part to play in getting to that point, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that, but if he or others like him don't want to take it seriously, we'll all be fine without him.