By Ryan Fleming
Much has been discussed about England’s old wonderboy, David Beckham’s time here. When the flamboyant and ever-glamorous attacking midfielder first came to the United States, his arrival was surrounded with much fanfare, anticipation and absolute hope that the former sensation could use his media following to provide a boost for Major League Soccer in its attempt to move into the light.
Beckham’s reign in the U.S., which started in 2007, has been plagued by injury and, for the most part, disappointment. In Sports Illustrated writer, Grant Wahl’s book, The Beckham Experiment, the author tries to analyze if Beckham’s time in the States can be considered a success. I’m here to tell you, it was.
Despite the horrible first two seasons the LA Galaxy endured when the England international first arrived, the path was paved for aging stars, such as Juan Pablo Angel, Freddie Ljungberg, Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry, to make the MLS their second home.
It’s certainly safe to say that the start of the Beckham era didn’t start off as Don Garber, the MLS commissioner, had planned.
Only three games into the season, Beckham suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in only his fourth game while part of the Galaxy, sidelining him for six weeks. Television ratings continued to be low, and Beckham seemed to fade back into irrelevance, but interestingly enough, the MLS managed to stay out of it.
Following his loan to AC Milan in the first half of the 2009, Beckham came back with the Galaxy midway through the MLS season to fans who frankly didn’t want to see him. Looking past the naysayers, Beckham catapulted the Galaxy into the MLS Cup Final, but Los Angeles eventually lost to Real Salt Lake on penalties.
While Beckham seemed to struggle in LA, MLS continued to grow. Additions, such as Toronto FC, Seattle Sounders, Philadelphia Union and, new in 2011, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers to the MLS, have proven that the league can succeed and grow. Beckham’s presence in the MLS might not have been felt directly on the field despite LA’s appearance in the 2009 final, but Beckham’s presence within the league proved that an international star, albeit aged, can make it. Furthermore, the league can draw big enough crowds to continue its expansion.
The Galaxy, aided by Beckham and one of his best game in MLS, Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle are on their way to a second consecutive MLS Cup final
Beckham’s residence in the States and time on the field single handedly morphed the sport of soccer from a non-existent foreign sport, to a game that’s at least in the mind of many Americans. He’s had help from the success of the United States Men’s National Team in this year’s World Cup, but his persistence to stay in the league, instead of following the rumors of his return to Europe, continues to brighten the MLS.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.