David Beckham Leaving Major League Soccer
A little over five years ago, the sport of soccer changed in the United States forever. On July 13th, 2007, the world’s most recognized soccer player, David Beckham, was officially introduced as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. With his arrival, Major League Soccer (MLS) set tremendous expectations in terms of the growth of soccer in America.
After spending five years with Spanish club Real Madrid, Beckham announced on January 11th, 2007 that he would be coming to Los Angeles to join the MLS on a five-year, $32.5 million deal, by far the largest the sport has ever seen in America. And just like that, the entire country was overwhelmed with the reality that the world’s most recognizable player would be playing in a league that few even paid attention to.
Beckham’s arrival brought immediate dividends. In 2006, the season before Beckham came to the Galaxy, there were 12 MLS clubs. There are now 19, with expansion teams forming in cities including Toronto, Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, Vancouver, and, most recently, Montreal. According to Sporting News, since Beckham’s arrival attendance has risen more than 20 percent, and the average player salary has increased more than 80 percent. Ten soccer-specific stadiums have been built since Beckham signed with Los Angeles, and an eleventh is on its way in San Jose. Most importantly, Beckham has led the way for more big-time players around the world, including Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill and Alessandro Nesta to join MLS. Foreign superstars like Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Kaká have also been linked with moves to MLS all because of Beckham’s time in America.
However, Beckham’s stint with Los Angeles did not come without controversy. In the spring of 2009, he decided to join Italian powerhouse A.C. Milan on loan in order to prepare in hopes for one last shot to join England’s national team for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. When Beckham returned to Los Angeles in July, he was met with signs at the Home Depot Center—the Galaxy’s home—that read, “GO HOME FRAUD,” and, “HERE BEFORE, HERE AFTER, HERE DESPITE 23.”
However, it can be said that this in itself showed the growth of soccer in America. Before Beckham, there were practically no people in the stadiums to jeer or to insult players. Beckham brought excitement, flair and talent to America. But most importantly, he brought a passion for the game that this country just hasn’t seen. Sure, there have been homegrown stars like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, but even they haven’t brought the international recognition and overall excitement that Beckham brought to MLS.
Over the first few seasons with the Galaxy, Beckham didn’t have the on-field results that most people thought he would have had. He only scored nine goals in 48 matches, and didn’t even lead the Galaxy to the MLS playoffs until his third season. However, since then, Beckham has seen nothing but success. In 2011, Beckham finished second in the league in assists while helping the Galaxy to win their third MLS Cup in franchise history.
In 2012, Beckham had his best season while with the Galaxy, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists in 24 games. However, on November 19th, just 12 days before the Galaxy played the Houston Dynamo for the MLS Cup, Beckham announced that the match would be his last game for the club. The Galaxy went on to win that match to capture their second consecutive MLS Cup, defeating Houston 3-1.
However, Beckham’s exit does not signal a crushing blow to the league. MLS Commissioner Don Garber had one thought in mind when David Beckham came to Los Angeles: American soccer will now be able to succeed. And succeed it has. With increases in attendance and player salary since Beckham’s arrival, MLS doesn’t need him anymore. Garber reiterated this in his annual state of the league address on November 26th: “We needed David Beckham in 2007 to help drive our credibility, to help grow our popularity and to show the world that the United States…was ready to support a division one league. We don’t need anything today to get us to the next level,” Garber said.
In simple terms, David Beckham was able to do something that nobody thought was possible six years ago: bring soccer to a respectable level in the United States. Six years ago, the MLS needed a superstar like David Beckham. Now? They’ll be just fine without him.
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