Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: "The Beckham Experiment." Giants Stadium, AC Milan, Arsenal, Beckham Academy, Carlos Valderrama, CONCACAF Champions League, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, David Beckham, David Ferreira, Denilson, Dwayne De Rosario, FC Dallas, Home Depot Center, Houston Dynamo, Jamie Moreno, Lamar Hunt U.S. National Open Cup, Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer, Marco Etcheverry, Mike Petke, MLS Comeback Player of the Year, MLS Cup final, NBA, NHL, Paris Saint-Germain, Queens Park Rangers, Rafael Marquez, Robbie Keane, Rodney Marsh, Tab Ramos, Thierry Henry, Tottenham Hotspur
A pair of two-time Major League Soccer champions, the Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy, will meet Sunday, November 20, before a sellout crowd at the Home Depot Center outside Los Angeles in the 2011 MLS Cup final. Kickoff will be at 9 p.m. EST/6 p.m. PST (ESPN and Galavision). [November 13]
Comment: The game could mark David Beckham’s final appearance in the U.S., and that’s not a good thing.
The 36-year-old English icon’s five-year, $32.5 million contract with the Galaxy expires at the end of the year, and among Beckham’s reported suitors are Paris Saint-Germain, Tottenham Hotspur and even Queens Park Rangers.
If he leaves, despite the Galaxy’s reported interest in re-signing him, what sort of grade does the so-called “Beckham Experiment”–the title of a rather premature book on his MLS adventure published a couple of years ago–deserve?
Call it a high “B”; not quite a low “A”. That’s an “A-” for overall effect, dragged down by an “S” (satisfactory) for effort.
There were just as many highs as lows over the five-year period. More than a quarter-million Galaxy/No. 23 jerseys were sold before Beckham was even introduced as a member of the Galaxy, a media event that attracted 700 journalists. As advertised, there were memorable free kicks that produced goals, and that crowd of 66,000 that poured into Giants Stadium to see the man with the educated right foot make his Big Apple debut. There also, however, were injuries, plus the controversial loans to AC Milan and training spells with Arsenal and Tottenham that caused many to question Beckham’s commitment to his American team. The collapse of the much-vaunted Beckham youth academy in L.A. didn’t help. So mixed has been the Beckham legacy in MLS that he earned–or was saddled with–the 2011 MLS Comeback Player of the Year award for assisting on 15 goals in 26 games a year after a torn Achilles limited him to just seven league appearances in 2010. Oh, and no MLS championships or U.S. National Open Cups or CONCACAF Champions League trophies.
Nevertheless, Beckham will forever be linked with a brief period in MLS history when things went from flat to positive, from indifference to optimism. The year before Beckham’s arrival, the league had 12 teams, too many of them troubled. The charter U.S. internationals and key foreign starts like Carlos Valderrama and Marco Etcheverry who had given the teams their initial identities back in 1996 had retired. It wasn’t, to quote Rodney Marsh’s assessment of English soccer in the early ’70s, “A gray game played on gray days by gray men,” but it was close.
The creation of the so-called Beckham Rule–the introduction of the designated player exception that allowed teams to reach beyond their salary cap and sign marquee foreign players like Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Denilson (sorry, FC Dallas), Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez and, most recently, Robbie Keane–changed all that. Beckham’s arrival and how it lured other big names to MLS added the necessary flesh and blood to the brick and mortar as MLS grew by six clubs and added an impressive list of soccer-specific stadiums.
Most Americans aren’t aware that MLS (17,872) has surpassed the NBA (17,323) and NHL (17,132) in average attendance; that the expansion team fee has ballooned from $10 million, pre-Beckham, to $40 million; that the league’s most recent TV rights deal, with outsider NBC, hit $30 million for three years. What they do know is that they can name one soccer player–David Beckham–where before they didn’t know Tab Ramos from Jamie Moreno from Mike Petke. Back when the league was just trying to gain any sort of traction, back when the Galaxy was 11th out of 13 teams in 2007 (9-14-7) and 13th out of 14 the following year (8-13-9), people were talking and writing about Becks, or at least the photogenic Becks and wife Posh.
And that’s why Beckham will be missed if he chooses to close out his playing career elsewhere. If and when he goes, don’t count on the general American public and the typical U.S. sports columnist or commentator to magically shift their attention to Dwayne De Rosario or David Ferreira or even Henry. In that sense, Beckham has proved to be irreplaceable.
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