And so it comes to this: David Beckham says goodbye

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We knew the end had to come at some point. Although he looks like he hasn’t aged a day, David Beckham was — just like the rest of us — always, unavoidably growing older. But it feels weird now that it’s here, doesn’t it? Major League Soccer’s biggest star will play his final match on Saturday against the Houston Dynamo in MLS Cup.

It’s a fitting end: Beckham and the Galaxy battling for the league championship in front of their supporters who were lucky enough to score what became an even hotter ticket after he announced his departure. The weather might be wet but that won’t dampen the enthusiasm of the surely partisan crowd.

Beckham departs six up-and-down seasons after he arrived, his tenure marred by early questions about his dedication that markedly improved over the final few years. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Galaxy’s fortunes improved as well (cc: Bruce Arena). His impact on his team is best reflected in the bad-soap-opera-turned-love-story between Beckham, the world’s biggest football star, and Landon Donovan, the United States’ best-known quantity. We can debate the Englishman’s contributions on the field all day, but that’s never why he was here in the first place. Yes, the highlight reel goals and passes were nice moments, but the Galaxy and MLS didn’t break the bank and change the rules so Beckham could play 90 minutes every game for six straight seasons; they did it to build the brand.

(MORE: Beckham’s Thursday press conference)

And build the brand he, and they, did. Beckham leaves an MLS that is in a much different place than it was when he arrived. Attendance is up across the board. Television ratings are improving. Best of all, the talent is the best it has ever been, and grows better every year. David Beckham didn’t do this on his own — far, far, far from it — but he helped get the ball rolling in the right direction with a nice big pushkick.

At 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, a soccer game will kick off at The Home Depot Center. For the last time — until he returns as an owner, of course — David Beckham will partake in MLS action. He will be the center of attention because David Beckham is always the center of attention no matter where he goes or what he does. This is the reality of being David Beckham, the reason the Galaxy paid him all that money in the first place.

But if you shield your eyes and look past the bright lights focused on the superstar, you’ll see plenty of others shining elsewhere: the Galaxy superteam led by Donovan and Robbie Keane that features plenty of other rising talent; the brilliant Brad Davis and his never-say-die Dynamo; the raucous HDC crowd; the match in a prime spot on ESPN; Chris Wondolowski’s full-page spread in the USA Today; etc. etc.

(MORE: David Beckham clearly has a sense of humor)

Beckham played an instrumental role in helping bring those those bright lights to MLS. They won’t leave when he does; they will merely focus elsewhere, and MLS has the talent, the money, the infrastructure to support the glare. That success is the most impressive part of Beckham’s legacy.

But the goals and the free kicks were wonderful, too.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.