By Simon Evans
(Reuters) - David Beckham hopes to crown what could be his final season in Major League Soccer with a league championship when he and the L.A. Galaxy face the Houston Dynamo in Sunday's MLS Cup.
A victory over the Texans would secure the 36-year-old midfielder's first MLS title to add to league championships won earlier in his career in England with Manchester United and Spain with Real Madrid.
It won't match those wins in terms of status but it would be the perfect response to critics inside the United States who questioned his commitment to the Galaxy.
The midfielder, who was criticized for loan moves to AC Milan in Italy, came back from last season's Achilles tendon injury to deliver accomplished performances as L.A. finished with the best regular season record and then came through tough challenges in the playoffs defeating New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake.
Now the Galaxy, who play at their own Home Depot Center venue on Sunday, are hoping to persuade Beckham to come back for one more season although the Englishman has been guarded about his intentions.
"I've always said it's down to how I feel physically," Beckham said this week, "My priority always is my family and are they happy. We love living here and we've loved living here for five years and we continue to love that part of it. But it will be down to how I feel physically. I'm 36 years old, but I still love the game like I was 21 years old," he said.
Physically, Beckham remains able to compete with players 15 years younger than him, but he often ends games in clear pain and discomfort.
The focus, as always, is on the Englishman, who can still whip in inch-perfect crosses and deliver his trademark free-kicks, but Beckham was keen to downplay any significance of him finally getting his hands on the MLS Cup.
"Of course I want to win the Cup on Sunday but it's more important for the club that we win the cup on Sunday than myself," he said.
The Galaxy have invested in their team more than any other club in MLS - adding Irish forward Robbie Keane to their squad this season as the third 'designated player', paid above salary cap restrictions, along with Beckham and U.S. international Landon Donovan.
Owners AEG are desperate to see trophies in return for that outlay - the Galaxy's two MLS Cup wins came in 2002 and 2005 and they lost their last Cup final appearance, in 2009, to Salt Lake.
The Dynamo, also owned by AEG, come into the game as clear underdogs despite having won the competition in 2006 and 2007 under current coach Dominic Kinnear.
The absence through injury of midfielder Brad Davis, a dead-ball specialist and the team's main creative force, is a major blow, but Houston have shown their strength lays in all-round team-work and a dangerous front line.
Former U.S. international forward Brian Ching will lead the line and makes up for what he lacks in pace with a dangerous ability in the air, good instincts in front of goal and smart awareness.
"Brian is the heart and soul of that team," Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said on Thursday. "He's been there for years. He's won two championships for them, and he's a great player."
A title win would be a massive boost to the Dynamo before they switch to their own, new stadium being built in downtown Houston, one of the latest in a series of new soccer-specific sites being built by MLS clubs.
(Editing by Julian Linden)