BY ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. — David Beckham has enjoyed his finest season in MLS and on Thursday in the Los Angeles Galaxy's most important game of the season, Beckham led his team to Conference Final.
Dealing with back spasms that nearly forced him out of the game in the first half, the Galaxy's midfielder sparked Los Angeles' rally as the Galaxy defeated the New York Red Bulls 2-1 advancing to the Western Conference Final against Real Salt Lake 3-1 on aggregate. Helping set up both goals on the night, there was no question of Beckham's influence on the result.
"His effort was great tonight," said head coach Bruce Arena. "He's a player with an unbelievable desire to win and I think when we went down a goal, David helped pick up the team and his energy in the second half and earning that penalty kick was all David. I think that he was an inspiration to our team."
Starting the match with Dax McCarty filling in for the suspended Rafa Marquez, the Red Bulls bursted out of the gate. New York struck first in the fourth minute when Luke Rodgers raced onto a Thierry Henry pass and beat Omar Gonzalez before firing a shot past Josh Saunders for the goal.
As the half wore on, the Red Bulls continued to push ahead, but were dealt a blow in the 16th minute when influential midfielder Teemu Tainio went out with a right hamstring injury. Without the Finnish midfielder, the Red Bulls midfield appeared to lose an edge that the Galaxy began to exploit.
"The injury to Tainio was a tough one for us," McCarty told reporters after the match. "We had a very good rhythm, we were passing it through LA’s midfield like they weren’t even there. But it definitely changes. Stephane [Auvray] came in a did a great job, but at the end of the day LA seized the momentum at that point."
Los Angeles nearly suffered their own injury in the 31st minute when Beckham collided with New York midfielder Dane Richards while attempting to head down a ball. Moments later, Beckham was on the ground in clear pain and was eventually led off the field.
While it seemed that Beckham would be substituted, he re-entered the game in just four minutes later after receiving smelling salts on the sidelines. After appearing to struggle with his injury initially, Beckham put the Galaxy up on aggregate in the 42nd when he fired in a corner that Mike Magee headed past Red Bulls goalkeeper Frank Rost.
"We started off bad and it wasn’t what we’d planned. It was disappointing to start but I think the way we adjusted ourselves showed character in our players and our team," said Beckham."We played a lot better once we got into the game, once we calmed down, once our nerves calmed down."
New York attempted to find an equalizer, the Galaxy found an insurance goal with Beckham once again serving as the catalyst. In the 74th minute, Red Bulls defender Roy Miller cut down the Englishman with a kick in the box that resulted in a penalty kick. Just a minute later, Landon Donovan buried the penalty to give Los Angeles a two-goal cushion in the series.
The Galaxy will face Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Final on Sunday at 9pm EST at the Home Depot Center. Although the Galaxy are just a single match from reaching MLS Cup for the second time in three years, they are aware that three day turn-around may play a role.
"It’s not ideal but we’re happy to be in this position, we’re happy to have this problem but ideally, I’m sure Salt Lake would be the same – they’d prefer a few days rest," said Beckham. "But it is what it is and we’re happy to be in the position we’re in."