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And so it comes to this: David Beckham says goodbye

Nov 29, 2012, 1:32 PM EDT

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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.

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