[MLS]No team wins an MLS Cup without players cast off or dropped or ignored by other teams, and the 2009 champion is no exception. Several important contributors to Real Salt Lake's championship arrived in Utah from other MLS teams, and controversy accompanied a few of them, most notably captain Kyle Beckerman, swapped for Mehdi Ballouchy in July, 2007, not long after Jason Kreis had taken over the coaching duties from John Ellinger.
"He's a fighter, a competitor," says goalie Nick Rimando, whose penalty-kick saves earned him the MLS Cup MVP award but praised his captain before and after the match. "Once he crosses the sideline onto the field, it's such a clichéd thing to say, but he wants to win no matter what. Guys feed off that. He's our leader, he's our captain, and it's a perfect role for him in that midfield. To see him fighting for balls it makes it easier for us in the back."
The teams met on the final day of the regular season the past two years, and both times RSL got the result it needed to eke into the playoffs at the expense of the Rapids. Beckerman had a few words for his former team, which also formerly employed defenders Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert, as well as some observations about the team that had been vanquished at Qwest Field.
"Colorado is a bad organization," says Beckerman bluntly. "LA, we got lucky getting Robbie Findley and Ned Grabavoy, but that's the way it goes. And LA got a big-time player in Chris Klein, he's a great player." (Findley and Nathan Sturgis went to RSL in June 2007 in exchange for Klein; Grabavoy saw limited action for the Galaxy during its 2005 championship season, then went to the Crew before being waived by San Jose earlier this year and claimed by RSL.)
Beckerman praised another Galaxy player who showed considerable class by coming into the RSL locker room to offer his congratulations. "He's a class act, he really is," said Beckerman of David Beckham, who also made it a point to embrace RSL owner Dave Checketts. "I wouldn't have expected that from anybody, and for him to come in here and congratulate us is just a class act and he's a top-drawer person. He's done a lot for our league and I know it wasn't easy for him to do that. He wanted this as much as anybody else."
Grabavoy, who converted the winning PK in the conference final shootout win over Chicago, injected life into the RSL attack upon replacing Will Johnsonat halftime and along with Beckerman helped throttle the Galaxy midfield. "You get that in a league like this, when a lot of players float around a little bit, but in a game like this you don't need any extra motivation," said Grabavoy. "It is kind of a weird feeling: I've won a championship with their club [LA] and now with this club, and I'm really excited and happy for this Real Salt Lake organization."
Findley led RSL with 12 goals this season and banged home the equalizer in the 64th minute to set up the penalty-kick shootout. He converted RSL's second attempt. "I didn't know what to expect, really, it was something new for me," said Findley of the trade. "Yeah, I was a little nervous, but it ended up working best for me.
"It's whatever for me, that's in the past, and I'm enjoying it with these guys here. Same thing for Ned, we're just enjoying the moment here. It feels kind of good to get the Galaxy, but all these guys here worked hard."
Clint Mathis nearly won an MLS Cup with the Galaxy, with which he started his league career in 1998. Los Angeles lost to D.C. United in the 1999 final, and after bouncing between teams in America and Europe, he passed through the Galaxy roster again last year without playing prior to joining RSL in the spring.
"It came down to penalty kicks, which is a sad thing in this sport," said Mathis, a dynamic offensive catalyst in the second half and overtime. "I don't like to see anyone lose in this situation like we did last week, but that's the rules and you got to play by them and it's nice to be first this time instead of second."
Getting back to the captain, who worked as hard as anyone all season, Beckerman couldn't wait to talk about some friends from his first real taste of the world's game: playing for first competitive squad of the U-17 residency program, along with Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Bobby Conveyand Oguchi Onyewu, among others. Coached by former RSL coach Ellinger, the U-17s finished fourth in New Zealand after more than 40 players came through the program to be evaluated.
"I won this tonight but it wasn't just me tonight," said Beckerman. "There were a lot of guys on that under-17 team that won it with me. I carried the torch for them. Some guys got some raw deals in Major League Soccer and they had to get real jobs, but they won it with me tonight. I know they were watching and I'm proud to be part of that. Landon, he already has a couple [actually three MLS Cups], and I wanted one.
"Jordan Cila, Seth Trembly, Alex Yi, Nelson Akwari, Kenny Cutler, D.J. Countess,DaMarcus, Oguchi Onyewu. That was a good team."
Champion's welcome home