David Beckham and The USA
By Simon Allen
How can I not write an article about David Beckham's retirement?
It's a damn shame DB23 is retiring. The man was class! A Soccer icon. A super good human being and overall awesome guy.
It actually makes me feel old now that he's retired. And sad. There were always better players than Beckham and there will be better players than Beckham in the future. But I don't think any one will come as close at being an absolute “name” than DB23. In America especially. You could talk to someone who had no interest (or knowledge) in the beautiful game what so ever and that person would know David Beckham.
Let's be honest, a lot of people got into soccer because of David Beckham. I've asked a lot of Man Uinted fans when they became fanatical about the team and almost always it was around the same time Beckham was wearing the #7 for the Red Devils.
Believe me, I never once saw any one wear a #6 replica jersey in 2000. I guess having Jaap Stam's surname on your back didn't have the same appeal as the most talked about and most popular player in the world. Man United sells about 1.4 million jerseys a season and at one point one out of every three jerseys sold in the world were United jerseys. In America, across MLS franchises, fans held up signs with “Beckham give me your jersey” written on it. Something I hadn't seen ever.
Beckham also did something in America that Pele failed to do. He popularized and solidified soccer in America. Nancy Lamour of The Associate Press wrote “Ask someone in Asia or Europe a decade ago what they knew about the Galaxy and odds are the answer would have been limited to planets and stars.” I don't disagree. In fact I would also add that if you asked someone in a franchise city about top tier soccer in America 10 years ago that they probably wouldn't have know they had a team. Just last year, Torsten Frings stood in a subway in (soccer mad) Toronto with a sign and soccer ball...and no one really bothered him. Don't giggle too much, back when Lothar Matthaus signed for the MetroStars, the New York team had a press conference in Times Square. Folks lined up to take a photo with the German legend and almost comically when a reporter asked a fan who he was taking a photo next to...the fans replied “I don't know.” We've come a long way!
David Beckham's arrival to American soccer was the most important event in domestic US soccer history. The world's most recognizable man, notice I said man...not just soccer player, came to ply his trade in a league looking to show the world just how good of a league MLS was. Of course, big names attract big names. Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry showed up. Which was fun. Hapless managers tried to fill their rosters with (less than stellar) names that didn't quite work out because they saw DB23's impact on the game. Freddie Ljundberg showed up for Seattle Sounders with fans hailing him as the younger better faster stronger David Beckham. He was an underwear model and women thought he was cute. Alexi Lalas said of Ljundberg “ For me he's the best DP signing, because of the way he plays in MLS.” He was so good that Sounders traded him to Chicago Fire.
Freddy's impact to the American game was a bit better than Ade Akinbiyi in a Houston Dynamo jersey. To this day I honestly believe that some bigwig believed that getting an Englishman on the squad would somehow improve the teams chances of winning and filling up stadiums- Any Englishman. Fourteen matches and zero goals later, Akinbiyi was shown the door. But at least he wasn't a Designated Player. Which is another thing that DB23 can be credited for. Because of the the David Beckham rule, suddenly you could make some money in American soccer. Chris Wondolowski now gets DP money because of DB23. You can start from the bottom and work you're way up to the highest ranks now. Claudia Reyna ended his career with a giant payday because of the DP rule.
With Beckham there was interest in soccer. Mainstream sports people were talking about soccer in America like it was a new thing. In 2005, I started my podcast and there were a handful of folks doing what I was doing. In 2007, it seemed like everyone was talking about MLS on a podcast and suddenly more bloggists popped up to talk about the beautiful game. If you wanted to sell articles or get a lot of hits on your blog you would talk about David Beckham. If you wanted some notoriety you would slag off David Beckham. Not just in the sports world. I remember Lindsay Lohan saying that she made a bet that she would shag DB23 and that made news. I don't think anyone ever said that about Darren Huckerby or Istvan Urbanyi.
Appearances by Beckham on TV just added more fuel to the fire. DB23 represented MLS and American soccer, so if TMZ reported on him surfing with his kids or if there was a second or two of screen time of him at Wimbledon, then that was more exposure for MLS.
Also...if you wanted to make a name for yourself as a soccer player you would some how get involved with David Beckham. Mike Magee said “The way that this league has turned around in the last six years since he got here is black and white and it's fair to say that it is 100 percent because of him.” Magee is a player that has benefited from Beckham being his teammate. I wonder if Magee would be as good as he is today if he hadn't played for LA Galaxy with Beckham. On the flip side, Jessie Marsch's publeague foul against Beckham in the Superclassico comes to mind as a way of getting some TV face time. Before that Thursday match, I don't think too many people outside of mainstream soccer knew who Marsch was. Good match though!
DB23 also made ticket sales easy. Suddenly, when LA were in town, other franchises found it a lot easier to sell out their stadiums. Twice a year, there was money to be made and placed into the bank account. Season ticket sales went up and the crowds were larger on TV, which in turn made American soccer look really good. Games were sold out. People actually rushed out to get season tickets because of DB23. I've joked for years on my show “No one ever bought season tickets cos Digital Takawira was on the squad.” And I have to believe that extra money came in handy setting up academies and hiring better people. Which in turn made a stronger franchise. And stronger franchises makes for a stronger League.
I was there at the first match Beckham played at the Home Depot Center and I was there at his last match. It was a good time to be a fan of MLS. I had been watching since day one and it was finally good to see a player that was a name and that could do something to contribute both on and off the field. DB23 had caused a stir and folks by the water cooler were talking about American Soccer. The World was talking about MLS.
I had watched DB23 play against Wimbledon and I watched England vs Greece in 2001. I watched the red card against Argentina and him raising MLS Cup. My listeners from my podcast have said that I was David Beckham's Cheerleader. Fine by me! We wont see a player like him on these shores. It was a pleasure to watch the guy play soccer, inspire kids to work hard and take American Soccer to the next level.