Not far from the spot where he once stuck a gold shovel into the dirt, David Beckham joined Los Angeles Galaxy teammates Landon Donovan and Todd Dunivant in a big hug in the middle of Rio Tinto Stadium to celebrate a comeback victory over Real Salt Lake.
That scene from last June stands as Beckham's farewell appearance in the Salt Lake Valley now that he's retiring from professional soccer after playing this season in France. In the end, his Major League Soccer career became intertwined with RSL like no other iconic athlete with a Utah franchise except Michael Jordan and the Jazz.
When it comes to favorable memories, Becks is our guy.
Beckham helped build a stadium. Jordan fouled an arena with cigar smoke. Beckham's presence validated RSL's championship. Jordan denied the Jazz from ever claiming one. Beckham went into the locker room and congratulated Real after Robbie Russell's kick won the MLS Cup title. Jordan used his Hall of Fame induction speech to chide the Jazz's Bryon Russell.
Sure there was Beckham's exchange with Jason Kreis that made the RSL coach once label him "disrepectful," but the franchise's interactions with him otherwise were healthy. These are phrases that nobody imagined appearing in the same sentence, as of 10 years ago:
"David Beckham" and "Sandy."
"Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes" and "Rice-Eccles Stadium."
"Real Salt Lake" and "MLS Cup champions."
Having just become a part-owner of the franchise in November 2009, Dell Loy Hansen previewed that title game by saying, "If [RSL] can go in there and have the heart to take on Beckham and Donovan and come home with the trophy, this city ought to explode."
RSL did its part, and the impact of that victory in Seattle did resonate back home, although maybe not to the degree that Hansen envisioned.
Beckham was part of the story that night, mostly because his collision with RSL's Javier Morales in the 22nd minute sidelined Morales for the rest of the game. But Russell's goal during the shootout that followed overtime gave Real the victory, and Beckham graciously visited the winning locker room.
That's the guy we know. The relationship with RSL began in August 2006, when Real Madrid came to town for an exhibition game. That afternoon, when then-RSL owner Dave Checketts impulsively staged a groundbreaking event for a new stadium in Sandy, here came a bus carrying Beckham and his teammates to join in the ceremony.
Real Madrid's 2-0 victory was in front of 45,511 fans, including Beckham's friends Cruise and Holmes. Beckham signed with the Galaxy five months later, launching his MLS tenure at age 31. Kreis, then an RSL player, observed, "Is he the world's best player? Probably not, but he doesn't have to be."
Beckham was not even the Galaxy's best player. Yet his MLS statistics may surprise you: 18 goals and 40 assists in 98 games. Two of those goals came against RSL in 2008 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and they were vintage Beckham curving shots that beat goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
After that MLS Cup loss to RSL, the Galaxy defeated Real in the Western Conference finals on the way to a championship in 2011, when Beckham made the MLS "Best XI" and was named the Comeback Player of the Year following an Achilles injury. The Galaxy took another title last year, although RSL won its last regular-season meeting with Beckham 2-1 in October.
And Robbie Russell beat Beckham again this past week. Enrolling in medical school, Russell announced his own retirement, one day before Beckham after himself playing 98 games in MLS.