The Galaxy had only just begun a victory celebration that would stretch deep into Monday morning when Coach Bruce Arena was jarred briefly back to reality.
Sure the team had a dominant season, finishing with Major League Soccer’s best regular-season record for the second year in a row, then beating the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup. But what would the Galaxy do for an encore?
“That will be our challenge,” Arena said. “To try to keep the team together.”
That will be tough to do. Captain Landon Donovan, who scored the only goal Sunday in the title game, has two years left on his contract. And Irish import Robbie Keane is also signed for next season.
But things get a little dicey after that. Several players are due raises after a season in which the Galaxy was unbeaten at home, winning 11 times by 1-0 scores. And it will hard to reward everyone, given the league’s $2.675-million salary cap. (The majority of salary paid to designated players such as Donovan, Keane and David Beckham does not count against that cap.)
The Galaxy is also certain to lose players to the Montreal Impact in the expansion draft Wednesday. Among the Galaxy players who will be exposed in the draft are defenders Sean Alvarado, forwards Chad Barrett and Adam Cristman, and midfielder Chris Birchall.
“We’ll eventually get to a point in the league where I think you can keep building year in and year out,” Arena said. “But right now the way we do things, you probably have a little bit of a short window to be good, win some games, and then it’s got to start all over again.”
The most pressing question facing Arena and the Galaxy concerns Beckham’s future. The play-making midfielder will be with the team on a three-game Asia Pacific tour that begins Saturday, but his five-year, $32.5-million contract runs out Dec. 31 and Beckham has given no indication what he’ll do after that.
“I need to sit back and relax and enjoy this one,” said Beckham, whose MLS crown was his third league title, following championships in England with Manchester United and in Spain with Real Madrid. “Then I’ll decide what I’m going to do. At the end of the day I need to decide what’s best for me and what’s best for the team, my family. And then we’ll see.”
Beckham is scheduled to meet later this week with AEG President Tim Leiweke, whose company owns the Galaxy. And he’s also reportedly fielding offers from teams in Europe, Asia and South America.
But the front-runner in the Beckham sweepstakes may be French club Paris-St. Germain, whose deep-pocketed Qatari owners envision Beckham bringing their team the kind of buzz and credibility he brought to the Galaxy.
“He has three choices: He stays in L.A.; he goes elsewhere; or he doesn’t play again,” Arena said. “Whatever he does, I support him 100%. He has earned that.
“If he gets on his horse and rides into the sunset, goes elsewhere, retires, I am all for it. He has earned the right to make whatever decision he wants.”
But Beckham may not be the only one galloping off toward the horizon. At 60, Arena would seem to have few mountains left to climb. The winningest coach in the history of the U.S. national team, he now has a record three MLS championships.
“Over the last 10 years or so, I always reflect after a season or after a particular challenge if I still want to do it,” said Arena, who is also the Galaxy’s general manager. “Do I still have that desire to do it? And if I don’t, I’ll be the first to leave.
“Once I take my foot off the pedal, I’m really going to slow down. And that wouldn’t be fair to the team, to the organization, to myself.”
ESPN’s MLS Cup broadcast drew a 0.8 overnight rating, about half of the 1.5 Fox got for its taped coverage of an English Premier League game between Chelsea and Liverpool. But the overnight numbers for the Galaxy-Dynamo match were up 60% compared with those for the 2010 final between Colorado and FC Dallas.