With two graceful swipes of his right foot, supported ably by the touchy left one, David Beckham bent home a brilliant free kick and turned loose Landon Donovan for the goals that dumped D.C. United, 2-0, and earned Los Angeles a date in the first SuperLiga final.
(Click here for Beckham highlights.)
A small but enthralled crowd at Home Depot Center, inspired by the sight of Beckham standing at midfield for the opening kickoff wearing the captain's armband, generated a buzz from the first minute and the Galaxy players responded with a spirited effort. They were outshot, 18-7, and needed some sharp goalkeeping from Joe Cannon to fend off D.C., but as they had done against Pachuca in the first round of SuperLiga play, lost the stat battle but won the war.
Galaxy coach Frank Yallop deployed Donovan on the right wing of a three-man front line, and started both Edson Buddle and Carlos Pavon. Beckham played in a three-man midfield with Kevin Harmse and Kyle Martino, and defender Abel Xavier returned to the lineup to anchor the back line.
Cannon had to tip a cheeky 50-yard lob by Jaime Moreno over the crossbar, and soon afterwards he parried a fierce shot from Josh Gros. Beckham jolted his rather lethargic teammates with a hard tackle on Jaime Moreno that drew a caution.
A handball by Devon McTavish about 25 yards from the Galaxy goal primed the moment perfectly, and after a nervous D.C. wall set itself the required 10 yards away as the crowd's buzz rose in volume and intensity, Beckham's sharply swerved free kick utterly befuddled United keeper Troy Perkins as it rippled the side netting.
He wrestled roughly with his new teammates, he shook his fist, he screamed joyously. Relief, and perhaps redemption, lit up his face. He celebrated not just another brilliantly bent ball, but slightly more than a month of disdain, derogatory slurs and rampant ignorance aimed at him, his coach, his team and his life.
No matter. The ball was in the net, the Galaxy had the lead, the crowd savored a slice of history, and all was right with the world.
He opened his magic box again two minutes into the second half with the unwitting assistance of Gros, whose tangled legs couldn't reach a ball Beckham stroked into Donovan's path at midfield. Donovan bore down on goal and when his shot took a deflection off McTavish's foot, again Perkins was beaten.
Cannon made a few more saves, defenders Abel Xavier and Ty Harden crunched a few foes, and the insertion of Christian Gomez at halftime turned out to inconsequential. Pete Vagenas came on for Beckham in the 63rd minute and a half-full HDC trembled from the ovation.
Thus one of the league's worst teams will represent it against the defending Mexican champion in the SuperLiga final Aug. 29. A million bucks goes to the winning team. The opponent, Pachuca, and the venue, HDC, will be the same as when the Galaxy prevailed, 2-1, last month.
But everything else will be different because of Beckham, whose fine play may confirm the wishes of England coach Steve McLaren to summon him for a friendly against Germany next Wednesday.
The Galaxy still must make up a staggering gap to reach the playoff tier. A Beckham hopping back and forth across the Atlantic won't aid that cause. Without a few wins in the next few weeks, the rest of the MLS season will be nothing but Becksibitions.
But in about an hour of action, he displayed why AEG is investing in him a large fortune. He started, he scored, he conquered.
Aug. 15 in Carson, Calif.
Los Angeles 2 D.C. United 0. Goals: Beckham 27; Donovan (Beckham) 47.
Los Angeles - Cannon, Klein, Harden, Xavier, Randolph, Donovan, Beckham (Vagenas, 63), Harmse, Martino (Jones, 71), Buddle (Glinton, 76), Pavon.
D.C. United - Perkins, Boswell (Kpene, 66), McTavish, Namoff, Vanney (Gomez, 46), Fred (Moose, 86), Carroll, Olsen, Gros, Moreno, Emilio.
Yellow Cards: Los Angeles - Beckham 18; D.C. United - Carroll 59.
Referee: Alex Prus.