By Bruce Constantineau
Real Salt Lake overcame the Beckham factor, a sub-.500 regular season and a penalty-kick shootout to capture its first Major League Soccer title with a 2-1 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Galaxy.
It took seven rounds of penalty kicks to decide the MLS Cup outcome, which finally came when Real defender Robbie Russell fired a low shot past substitute Galaxy keeper Josh Saunders.
L.A. midfielder Mike Magee opened the scoring in the 41st minute with a deft left-foot finish off a cross from league MVP Landon Donovan. Midfielder David Beckham also assisted on the scoring play.
The teams traded scoring chances in the second half, until Salt Lake forward Robbie Findley evened the game in the 64th minute, driving home a rebound in the penalty area off a shot from teammate Yura Movsisyan.
Galaxy superstar Beckham, the centre of media attention all week, has nursed an ankle injury lately and appeared to labour in the second half and added time after looking sharp early in the match.
Real Salt Lake was a clear underdog in the league championship played before 46,011 fans at Qwest Field, having finished the regular season with 11 wins, 12 losses and seven ties.
Downtown Seattle buzzed with soccer activity in the days leading up to the MLS Cup, with league-sponsored pick-up games showcasing the sport to potential new supporters and exuberant, but nonviolent, interaction between Galaxy and Real Salt Lake fans.
Hosting the league championship game capped an emotional end to a spectacular first-year MLS season for Seattle. League commissioner Don Garber called the Seattle launch one of the best ever in the history of U.S. professional sports and one that gives hope to new franchises about to join MLS, including Vancouver in 2011.
Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi attended the game and watched in a private suite his team leased to host potential corporate clients thinking of supporting Vancouver's MLS venture. Whitecaps officials have kept in close contact with the Sounders and it's no wonder they want to emulate the Seattle model.
The Sounders' average game attendance of 30,900 this year was more than 50 per cent higher than the second-best team -- the Galaxy.
More than 200 avid MLS supporters -- including several Whitecaps fans in team colours -- attended an entertaining supporters summit Saturday at Qwest Field moderated by celebrity Sounders minority owner Drew Carey.
The Price is Right host and Garber fielded questions on a myriad of issues.
Garber told the fans the league is holding serious discussions with Montreal Impact owners about Montreal becoming the league's 19 franchise after Portland and Vancouver join MLS.
He said Beckham has an option to be an owner of a 20th MLS franchise that might begin play in 2012 or 2013 but, after that, the league will forget about expansion for the foreseeable future.
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