Real Salt Lake v LA Galaxy, MLS Cup final, November 22, 2009
A season is a long time in football and nowhere has this been more readily shown than in the MLS.
David Beckhamâ€™s return to America from his loan spell with AC Milan in July coincided with the release of â€œThe Beckham Experimentâ€ book that famously included Landon Donovanâ€™s less than flattering quotes about the former England captain.
Fast forward to last Friday night and the enduring image of the Western Conference final was Beckham (11/4 to score) and Donovan (5/1 to score first & LA Galaxy win) wheeling away in celebration together after the American forward had claimed the second goal of the night to see the Galaxy past Houston Dynamo.
Now the Galaxy go into the MLS Cup final of 2009 as overwhelming favourites against Real Salt Lake who were lucky to make the play-offs let alone reach the showpiece game of the season. The MLS will not care too much about the opposition, the arrival of Beckham to the final means there is huge interest in this match (41,000 will pack Qwest Field in Seattle for the final) and if Goldenballs emerges triumphant the league will receive a major boost.
Beckham has summed up the turnaround by calmly explaining that â€œthere’s nothing wrong with a bit of controversy in a club, it brings players and teams together and it’s done that.â€ Bruce Arena should take a lot of the credit for producing a side that is not just about the undoubted attacking talent provided by Beckham, Donovan and Edson Buddle (7/4 to score).
Galaxyâ€™s progression to the final has been off the back of two consecutive clean sheets and defender Gregg Berhalter even chipped in with the opening goal against Houston. Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts has also impressed and if Arenaâ€™s side keep a clean sheet on Sunday they have the firepower to win the match. (LA Galaxy are 11/10 to keep a clean sheet.)
Whilst the MLS congratulates itself on LAâ€™s progression to the final, fans of the fourth most popular sport in the country are wondering just how RSL made it to Seattle. Salt Lake scraped into the play-offs and finished the regular season having lost more matches than they had won.
They then rode their luck in the Eastern Conference final against a Chicago Fire side that dominated 120 minutes of the match and with Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Brian McBride would have provided the â€œdream finalâ€ against Beckham and co.
RSL will be hoping for another stand out performance from goalkeeper Nick Rimando who as well as saving three penalties in the shoot-out was solid throughout the match. (RSL are 5/2 to keep a clean sheet.) Further up field Kyle Beckerman (25/1 to score first) is their leading player and his battle with Beckham in the middle of the park will be crucial to the outcome of the final.
Up front Yura Movivsyan and Robbie Findley (18/5 for either Movivsyan or Findley to score first) are talented American strikers who know where the goal is and with expectation well and truly off the underdogs will play with no pressure and have nothing to lose.
The MLS is a much derided league and the quality of play in America still has a long way to go but for showpiece occasions nobody does it better than the land of the free and the home of the brave. This one-off final needed David Beckham and no one should be surprised if he steps up and scores the winner from a trademark free-kick.
101gg predicts: Real Salt Lake 2 â€“ LA Galaxy 3 (33/1)
Full match odds here.