If star power lighted scoreboards, there wouldn’t be much point in playing the 13th MLS Cup on Sunday: The Los Angeles Galaxy has it. Real Salt Lake doesn’t.
Everything about the Galaxy speaks of stars: their home city, their nickname. And especially their combustible combination of Major League Soccer’s best-known players: midfielder David Beckham and forward Landon Donovan.
Real Salt Lake doesn’t bring stars, but survivors. They squeezed into MLS’ final playoff spot despite a losing record, advanced, and somehow find themselves among the two teams left standing.
“The media keeps saying that a lot: They’re a team of stars,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “Well, Donovan: star. And Beckham is a star. But they also have some other good players on their team that are, you know, similar to the guys that we have. So, I don’t know. I wish it was 11 versus two -- that would be a nice matchup.”
It was a line that drew laughs from the two dozen or so reporters around to hear it at an RSL press conference Friday at Qwest Field.
But more than three times that number crowded into the interview room a couple of hours later, trying to hear Beckham and Donovan above the constant click of camera shutters.
“We deserve to be here,” Beckham said. “Real Salt Lake deserves to be here. Two good teams with good players in it. It’s gonna be a good game.”
It certainly will be a game of contrasts.
This is the first MLS Cup appearance for Salt Lake. Meanwhile, two-time champion Los Angeles is appearing for a league-record sixth time.
“For me personally, this has been more rewarding than any of the previous trips to this point in this season,” Donovan said. “It’s been challenging. It’s been difficult for a few years here. To put everything you have into something and then to be successful is very rewarding.”
At midseason, Donovan was named to the MLS All-Star team. And at the end, he was named the league’s most valuable player.
But his season began in controversy, when Grant Wahl’s “The Beckham Experiment” quoted him as questioning Beckham’s dedication to the team.
The pair hashed thing out once Beckham returned from loan to AC Milan. And with his arrival, the Galaxy went from a team that tied a lot to a team that won a lot. They became the fourth MLS club to go from worst to first it its conference in a single season.
And as Beckham and Donovan sat side by side Friday, they spoke glowingly of one another.
Donovan: “He chose to be a man and (wanted) this team to be successful. Without him, we’re not where we are.”
Beckham: “We’re here in the MLS Cup final because of the unity that we’ve got in the team. We’ve got good players throughout.”
Good as they are, they managed only a single point against Salt Lake this season: a road draw and a home loss. That’s an indicator of the how good RSL could sometimes be, and why they earned a reputation for inconsistency that Beckerman half-jokingly disputes.
“I think we’re actually really consistent,” he said. “We won at home, and we lost on the road.”
During the regular season, Salt Lake was 9-1-5 at home, 2-11-2 on the road.
However, their playoff run has included wins at Columbus and Chicago. And that gives them confidence meeting the Galaxy on a neutral pitch.
“When you get to the playoffs, the truth be told, you know, the records don’t mean anything anymore,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “If you get there, you can do something. That’s exactly what this team did. ... There’s still people that don’t believe in us. We’re a team that believes. That’s why we’re here.”
MLS commissioner Don Garber and Sounders FC minority owner Drew Carey will appear in the 11th annual Supporters Summit from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Qwest Field. The event is sponsored by Seattle supporters groups and is open to the public. More information is available at www.sounderscouncil.com/summit. ... ESPN Classic will air the two-hour documentary “History of the MLS Cup” at 3 p.m. today.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808