- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 21, 2009

Never underestimate David Beckham. Major League Soccer’s biggest star opened his season in July to boos and catcalls from fans.

His most high-profile teammate on the Los Angeles Galaxy, Landon Donovan, publicly questioned Beckham’s commitment to the club in a widely publicized book.

It was all so tawdry.

And, it seemed, Major League Soccer’s experiment with the famed midfielder was headed for a very expensive and embarrassing failure.

But then this is David Beckham, a man who’s had as many comebacks as he’s had hairstyles, a man whose obituary as a player has been written numerous times.

So it’s no surprise that Beckham will reach another milestone on Sunday at Qwest Field in Seattle, where the Galaxy will take on upstart Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup final.

Yes, Donovan, America’s finest player, also will be on the plastic surface at Qwest Field for the league’s championship game.

But face it: Beckham remains the star attraction whether you like him or not.

The 34-year-old Beckham, who joined the Galaxy from Real Madrid in July 2007, still draws worldwide attention. He may have lost a step or two, but he still has the clever moves, the deadly curling passes, the dead-ball skills and the intelligent runs.

He also has a reckless streak that opponents can exploit. Beckham is inclined to respond with wild tackles when riled, and he also appears to be nursing an ankle injury in the wake of just such a tackle in the Galaxy’s win over Houston a week ago.

Beckham’s had his share of ups and downs in his career, and he always somehow comes out a winner. But can he continue the script and help the Galaxy win the Cup?

The Galaxy certainly are the favorites, and Beckham loves the big occasions.

Beckham is poised to give a league always in search of global respect a huge gift: a picture of him holding aloft the MLS Cup to broadcast around a world he still fascinates.

After Brazil beat England in a friendly without Beckham last weekend, Brazilian star Kaka said England coach Fabio Capello “must include David” on his World Cup squad.

“There is no one else who has the experience and quality of Beckham,” he said.

But it’s not just Beckham and Donovan who got the Galaxy to the big game. Coach Bruce Arena also was crucial to the team’s success. The wily Arena helped patch up the Beckham-Donovan spat. He fixed the Galaxy’s woeful back line with a mix of youth and veterans. He also found a darn good goalie in Donovan Ricketts.

The Galaxy (12-6-12) on paper look like a strong favorite to win the MLS Cup, but don’t count out eighth-seeded Real Salt Lake (11-12-7).

The club won only two road games all season. But Real Salt Lake now has recorded two straight wins on the road, both against higher-seeded teams.

The club certainly can’t match the star power of the Galaxy, but it does have a crop of stylish players in Robbie Findley, Javier Morales and, of course, former D.C. United goalie Nick Rimando, who is in stunning form.

And it might have a bit of history on its side: The Galaxy entered the 2005 playoffs as the No. 8 seed and went on to win the MLS Cup.

Real Salt Lake no doubt is not the opponent the league hoped the Galaxy would face in the final.

MLS officials probably would have preferred to have Mexican ace Cuauhtemoc Blanco and the Chicago Fire - “Beckham vs. Blanco” would have been a ideal ticket.

Instead, the league will settle for a showcase “Beckham vs. Beckerman” - as in Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman, a former standout at Arundel High School.

But then, any Major League Soccer championship game that includes David Beckham can be automatically called a winner for this league.

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