CARSON, Calif. – Confetti fluttered in the drizzle, fireworks shot billowy pillars into the sky.
The going-away party had taken its time in getting properly started.
This wasn't the fault of the partygoers, who at more than 30,000 were ample and vocal, sending calls of "LA" and "Galaxy" at each other from opposite ends of The Home Depot Center. They had brought their signs and banners, professing love and gratitude for David Beckham's six-year tenure with the club.
But the hosts were more than fashionably late. For more than an hour, the guests of honor neglected to do their part, dampening the festivities. At last, 65 minutes into the L os Angeles Galaxy's MLS Cup Final against the Houston Dynamo , it all began.
Landon Donovan, the other principal actor in the event, crouched deep, peered into the goal, rose and coolly rolled the ball to his right as goalkeeper Tally Hall flailed to the left, converting the penalty that would win the Galaxy their second consecutive Major League Soccer championship.
LA's 1-0 half-time deficit, courtesy of a Calen Carr goal and the Galaxy's insistence on turning the ball over, was labored.
Throughout the first hour, Beckham, the man who had already announced that he would be leaving the Galaxy following the game, and Donovan, the man who has hinted that he might, as he delves into his existential crisis, looked out of sorts. Beckham traded off a smattering of old-fashioned passes with uncharacteristic giveaways. Donovan missed a gift of a chance in the 13th minute and looked to be communicating on an entirely different wavelength than his teammates, earning him several tirades from his fiery Irish strike partner Robbie Keane.
It all made for a poor game; slow, sloppy, jittery and scrappy. If Houston was unambitious with its unimaginative circulation of the ball, it nevertheless outplayed the Galaxy, who were outshot by the underdogs in both halves and spent more time whining at the referee and their peers than pursuing the ball.
But the Galaxy turned it around all the same, buttressed by the innate quality of their stars. In the 48th minute, Keane slipped through the Houston defense but saw his goal disallowed for offside.
In the 60th minute, Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez, rose high on a Juninho cross and deposited his header beautifully in the low far corner of the goal to equalize, setting off pandemonium.
Three minutes later, his team having finally seized the momentum, Keane had another goal disallowed when a foul was called on Gonzalez on the play. Not two minutes hence, a big scrum in the penalty box resulted in a penalty when the Dynamo's Ricardo Clark handballed. And so Donovan decided the game.
The rest of the game felt like a formality, a routine procedure as onlookers basked in the party's having finally reached its apex. Orange smoke drafted over the field from the Dynamo's well-filled quadrant of the stands, but it mattered little.
Especially after Keane broke through a final time in the 93rd minute, was taken down in the box and got to knock home his own penalty to register the 3-1 final score.
With seconds left and the championship celebrations long since underway, Beckham was substituted off for his curtain call. "Thank you, Beckham," sang the Angel City Brigade hardcores, who had sung "We want Beckham" at this very game - played between these very teams - a year ago, pleading for an encore after his initial five year contract was up.
They got it. Yielding a second consecutive title.
A trophy was hoisted, more confetti shot up and more sparks blew from a machine.
After all the hugs and kisses were doled out, Beckham strolled off the field, flanked by one of his sons, draped in both a British and an American flag. From all around the player tunnel, shrieks clamored for his attention.
He gave a nod. Then a wave. And then he was gone.
Behind him, Donovan ambled into an unknown future subject to introspection.
They sat side by side at the post-game press conference, drenched in champagne and smelling heavily of it. Beckham, as usual, said nothing more interesting than that "two titles are better than one" and that Gonzalez had danced around naked in the locker room. Donovan confirmed that he isn't sure what his future holds. "You have to listen to your gut," he spoke softly. "My gut says to go away for a while."
It's been a heavy few years for Donovan, for Beckham and for the Galaxy. They're exhausted. The attention, the travel, the expectations wore on them.
Two hours after the game, their locker room was almost empty. A long table groaned under the weight of dozens of empty champagne bottles. Puddles of the stuff flooded the floor, mixed with blades of grass, stinging the nostrils with their sour scent.
The party was over.