CARSON, Calif -- Grimacing with pain as he limped up to take his seat and address the media, David Beckham couldn't hide his delight of winning his first Major League Soccer Cup.
"Tonight is going to be a good night," Beckham repeatedly said with a smile.
It's been a dramatic five years since Beckham joined Major League Soccer as its first Designated Player with the hope of elevating the league and sport into the hearts of millions of Americans. His transition into the league and dealing with players, some of whom make a 100 times less than his annual salary of $6.5 million, was not easy as proven by the countless stories and disputes over the past half decade.
Yet, in finally winning the MLS title, the 36-year-old Beckham might have forever altered the scope of the league by changing its formula for success.
In the sequence that resulted in a goal that won the game for Los Angeles, all three of the Galaxy's Designated Players - Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan - were involved. Some may point out that the Galaxy spent over $12 million, the trio's annual salary, to secure their first title since 2005. If that is the number that separates champions from the rest, it is likely that more teams will follow suit.
Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear hinted more teams will have to recruit DPs in order to win a championship moving forward.
"It is hard to say," he said. "In soccer, there are different eras. A lot of it is up to ownership spending money and if players want to play here."
Even if the league is successful in recruiting more top-tier players from Europe, Central America and South America, there will still be challenges. The travel required and the league's playoff format continue to baffle many players from abroad.
Even after winning his first league title in his 14-year career, Keane complained about the playoff structure and the fact that anyone can win the title in the North American league.
"If that's the way that they want to do it [MLS], it's different from the way they do it in Europe, but that's the rules so you have to go with it," he said.
Considering that Keane played in leagues where the top teams never cede their grip of trophies, it is strange to hear the Republic of Ireland star being critical of a format that finally allowed him to win a title. But despite the cultural setbacks that always make DP signings risky, it is difficult for teams to pass on players who are proven commodities both in ability and marketing sense.
For example, Beckham has won titles in almost every stop he's been in - including Spain, England and now North America - and has delivered global recognition to each club he's played.
“David’s a champion. I’ve been around great athletes and competitors in my life in different sports, and this guy is as good as it comes," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. "He has an unbelievable desire to win. He’s a great teammate. He’s a great person. I’m so happy for him. He’s done it all now – in every country he’s been in.”
With the 2011 season over, the future of MLS's biggest star will be the focus of the Galaxy, the league and its fans. The former England star has helped attract the likes of Thierry Henry and Keane to the league and there is a concern that the league will lose its luster if he departs for a club like Paris Saint-Germain.
In typical fashion, Beckham avoided saying anything concrete about his future.
"I might talk in past tense [about the Galaxy] but it doesn't mean I won't be back," said Beckham. "In my first year at Real Madrid, I was linked to a move to Chelsea every week."
He added, "There are a lot of options but at the moment I am a Galaxy player. I've been a Galaxy player for the past five years."
If it was his last game, then Beckham proved in his finale that he was passionate about finally being a success. He played 90 minutes through a torn hamstring. It is that effort that Arena pointed out and stressed that no matter what Beckham decides, he will be fully supportive of the final resolution.
"I think whatever he decides to do, I support it 100 percent," said Arena. "He's earned it."
In either case, one thing is certain. Beckham's story with Los Angeles has finally become a success.
"This has just topped it off tonight," said Beckham. "It always nice to have doubters along the way and always nice to prove them wrong."
Which will be the next team to take part of the Designated Player experiment?