Return of the savior
David Beckham could be the most divisive figure in the short history of MLS. When David Beckham came to MLS, it was supposed to be as a holly savior for soccer in America. And while soccer has a long way to travel to even get to NASCAR levels in this country (I’d say it’s the fourth most popular professional team sport, and then ranks behind MMA, NASCAR, PGA, and tennis for overall sports) it has grown immensely.
The God’s honest truth was that I hated David Beckham. I really did. When he came to MLS, I was shocked. The publicity was good, but he never seemed to take anything seriously. He decided to spend his offseasons training with any team that would take him. He got in arguments with fans, several arguments with fans. He got into it with Landon Donovan. He was ripped apart in a Grant Wahl book. People complained that he only put in half effort on the field, or that he showed a lack of respect for his opponents. He seemed to spend more time talking about football than actually playing it. ESPN would talk about Beckham. Sports Illustrated would talk about Beckham. Casual fans would talk about Beckham. But the thing was everyone was talking about Beckham.
Then, a funny thing happened. He took an offseason off, played out of his mind, helped LA win back-to-back Supporters Shield, assisted in qualifying his team for the quarter-finals of CONCACAF Champions league, won MLS Cup, and looked to be riding off into the MLS sunset. Despite my former dislike of him, I was saddened by the idea of MLS without Beckham. Everyone needs a bad guy, and when the bad guy is a very good player, it makes it that much easier to dislike him.
The funny thing is, after being in a bad relationship for three-and-a-half seasons, LA Galaxy supporters –and MLS fans– started to realize that LA actually had it pretty good. During the time he was in LA, LA morphed into the MLS version of a super club. They are MLS’s Manchester United. A team that is known world-wide. They lose Juninho –a loss that would be a death knell for almost any other MLS team– and replace him with Marvelo Sarvas. This is a team that goes to play in the Philippines against their All-Stars and utterly dominates them. LA plays Melbourne –a pretty equal team to LA in Australia’s A-League– and beats them on PKs. The team even signed a bigger local television deal than the entire MLS did with NBC Sports. So at the end of the day David Beckham did turn LA Galaxy from just a team into a soccer brand.
Due to Beckham, LA is suddenly a destination club. Where’s Anelka going, Drogba, Del Piero, Ronaldinho, Kaka? None of them have ended up in LA, yet, but all of them have at one point or another been linked with LA, and not in a ridiculously unbelievable fashion.
Love or hate Beckham, and I lean towards the latter, it is good that he is leaning back towards MLS. Will we see MLS sign Beckham to some kind of Tim Wakefield club option contract (Wakefield’s Red Sox deal allowed the club to have an option on him every year for life)? Hopefully we’ll see him take a pay cut. But will it keep him in the DP range? After all, he still is –at 36– the face of MLS.
Even if it ends up that David Beckham does not end up back in LA, I will honestly feel grateful for him being in MLS. Without Beckham, there is no Henry, there is no DP rule, there is no young DP rule, there is no one looking at investing into teams, and I would still have no idea what Herbalife is. Either way if this decision ends with him back in MLS it is a good thing for MLS, and this is coming from a guy who used to want nothing to do with him.