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.

Report: Earnie Stewart in negotiations for U.S. Soccer GM job

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Philadelphia Union sporting director and USMNT centurion Earnie Stewart is reportedly in negotiations to become the United States men’s national team general manager.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The report, from Metro NY reporter Kristian Dyer, says the Netherlands-born executive has the proverbial ball in his court.

Stewart, 49, racked up 103 caps and 18 goals for the Yanks and had a glittering playing career spent between Willem II, NAC Breda, and DC United.

He later had high-ranking positions with NAC Breda and AZ Alkmaar.

Here’s Dyer, quoting a source:

The source, speaking to Metro on the condition of anonymity, said that Stewart is believed to be the frontrunner and is in negotiations for the position following an impressive showing during the interview process.

The club, when asked for a comment, told Metro that “Since Earnie’s first interview with U.S. Soccer, we have respected their process, and as such, we will decline further comment until a final decision has been made.”

Stewart scored against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup and added markers in qualifying for the 1998 and 2002 tournaments.

His familiarity with both MLS and European leagues would be a boon for the U.S., and Stewart’s Union has brought along a number of promising young players including Auston Trusty and Keegan Rosenberry (the latter drafted out of Georgetown).

Carrick: Haven’t entertained possibility of Pogba leaving Man Utd

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Michael Carrick is hammering the idea of a Paul Pogba exit from Manchester United.

Pogba’s had his problems with manager Jose Mourinho, but recently praised the boss for the season’s education.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

But is an exit is just not going to happen, says Carrick as he heads toward a coaching role at Old Trafford.

From Sky Sports:

“Of course he’s got a future, he’s a big player for us, he’s a great age, he’s got his peak years ahead of him. It’s not even something I’d give a second thought to, to be honest.”

The retired midfielder also said he’s looking forward to working under Jose Mourinho, whom he calls “the best man to learn from.”

He also said United’s trophy-less season wasn’t ideal, but it’s more about them their competition.

“We’re not looking at City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, anyone. We’re looking at ourselves to improve, we believe we’re capable of improving a lot and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Three key battles for Champions League Final

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Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like this highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

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Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”