For MLS fans, there is a sense of deja vu in the air. For the second straight year, the MLS Cup features a Los Angeles Galaxy-Houston Dynamo showdown. And for the second straight year, the build-up to the season finale focuses on David Beckham’s MLS exit. In 2011, it was a false alarm – this time, it is official.

Beckham’s five-year spell in California has been a rollercoaster ride, featuring scathing criticism and flowing praise. The former England captain, though, has rewritten the narrative over the past two seasons, playing a key role in guiding the Galaxy to back-to-back MLS Cup appearances and three in total during his time in Los Angeles. They enter Saturday’s game as the clear favourites.

The time for evaluating Beckham’s impact in North America will come in the New Year. But the midfielder has already drawn his personal conclusions. "At the end of the day, it’s up to the critics and people to decide my impact on the game here in the States", he said. "I personally believe that it has been a successful one.

"I’ve seen the progression of this game first-hand – stadiums being built solely for the games, soccer franchises coming into the league, talk of the MLS in most countries now. For me, that’s a very proud moment."

While Beckham will be dominating the headlines this week, it should not go unnoticed that Los Angeles and Houston had forgettable seasons, finishing fourth and fifth respectively in their conferences. The Galaxy’s struggles were illustrated by the fact that they finished 12 points behind the first-placed San Jose Earthquakes in the Western Conference.

And so it has been another interesting reminder that North American sports embrace the drama of the playoffs, diminishing the importance of the regular season in the process. It is all about timely momentum rather than sustained excellence. The top five teams in each conference earn the right to compete in the playoffs – and from there, anything can happen. Both teams shrugged off their "low seed" tag, scraped through a pre-playoff game to reach the last eight and then leant on their experience to brush talented opposition aside.

Experience has been the key difference in the 2012 playoffs. The Galaxy can call on Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan – proven big game performers – while the Dynamo clearly took plenty of key lessons from their run to last year’s MLS Cup. In tense two-legged playoff ties, nothing is more critical than experience.

And Houston are well equipped to handle the Galaxy’s attacking prowess. Dominic Kinnear’s men have relied on a resilient rearguard to reach the MLS Cup, with defenders Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor in fine form as the Dynamo outlasted the much-hyped Sporting Kansas City and DC United. They will look to keep the game tight, pack the midfield and focus on counter attacks. Los Angeles’ strength is undeniably in the final third, where their frontline has papered over cracks in a leaky defence. It sets the stage nicely for an attack v defence tussle on Saturday.

As for Beckham, once the MLS Cup is over, speculation surrounding his future plans will gather steam. Does he have his eye on a return to the Premier League? Would he consider a lucrative move to Russia or China? There have even been links with New York Cosmos, who have the Eric Cantona connection and are pushing for inclusion in the MLS. "I’ve had an incredibly special time playing for the LA Galaxy, however, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career", he explained, giving no hints on where that next challenge might be.

Either way, the "Beckham Experiment" and his contribution to the progression of the MLS will not be forgotten, as Commissioner Don Garber pointed out recently. "When David Beckham signed with the LA Galaxy in 2007, he set out to help grow MLS and the sport of soccer in North America", Garber explained. "There is no doubt that MLS is far more popular and important here and abroad than it was when he arrived."

Without doubt, the coming weekend is one of the most important in the history of the MLS, with all eyes on Beckham’s last act as a Galaxy player. Given all his Manchester United and England heroics, look for him to go out with a bang.