Beckham Puts Major League Soccer on the World Stage

"David Beckham [above] is a global sports icon who will transcend the sport of soccer in America and carry it on his shoulders," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. (By Jasper Juinen -- Associated Press)
By George Solomon
Sunday, January 14, 2007

" The timing of David Beckham's decision [to leave European football at the age of 31] means that he will enter Major League Soccer at a time when he is still capable of giving competitive performances at the highest level."

-- Richard Williams, the Guardian (Manchester)

"Many Angelenos probably had no idea the city even had a soccer team, never mind one that was capable of luring Beckham."

-- Chris Ayers, the (London) Times

" He wants to put sah-kurr up there with the Super Bowl and the World Series and the NBA Finals. He wants to change the face of American sport."

-- Simon Barnes, the (London) Times

A sample of the reaction from British newspapers after the stunning news that one of the biggest names in sports, David Beckham, would be coming to the United States to play midfield for the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 12th year of Major League Soccer:

Beckham, pop icon and English soccer star, is leaving world power Real Madrid when his current contract expires for a soccer league many U.S. sports fans and media outlets barely know exists. He will sign a five-year contract with the Galaxy that could be worth as much as $250 million. He is coming to the United States with his celebrity, good looks, a 2002 movie titled "Bend It Like Beckham" and his celebrity wife, Victoria, formerly of the Spice Girls pop group.

Move over, Gilbert Arenas. Beckham's 32nd birthday party will make your recent birthday bash at Love nightclub resemble your neighborhood, 45-minute cover-your-ears cake-and-candles quickie at Chuck E. Cheese's.

"David Beckham is a global sports icon who will transcend the sport of soccer in America and carry it on his shoulders," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said on Thursday. "Our league is established and growing [13 teams], with established owners, new stadiums and four national television outlets."

Beckham joins a league in which the average salary last season was about $100,000, with several players on each team earning the minimum $11,700. Next season, the salary cap is expected to be about $2.2 million per team. However, each club now is allowed to exceed the salary cap to acquire a "name" player -- already known as the "Beckham Rule."

Nearly 30 years ago, another U.S. pro soccer league, the late North American Soccer League, also went for big names such as New York Cosmos stars Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia, as well as the Washington Diplomats' Johan Cruyff. It was a heady time for the NASL, with the Cosmos regularly selling out Giants Stadium and games against Washington at RFK. But an ill-conceived expansion failed and the league folded after the 1984 season.

"We're much more of a soccer nation than we were 20 years ago," Garber replied when asked if MLS was making a mistake by following a similar path taken by the NASL. "After 11 years, we're in a position to take more chances. We do not have fears about the future of our league. The majority of our players are Americans and our audience continues to grow."

How Beckham's arrival in L.A. affects league power D.C. United -- with its new management -- remains to be seen. With teenage "marquee phenom" Freddy Adu dealt to Real Salt Lake and Beckham headlining for the Galaxy, look for United to make news this month. United President Kevin Payne does not sit quietly on the sideline.

Old Gators Smile

Musings and questions from a weekend in the Phoenix-Glendale area spent with a retired urologist, a retired Wall Streeter and a retired carpet mogul to watch the alma mater, Florida, play heavily favored Ohio State on Monday night in the BCS title game. I wondered:

· How come so many 60-something fans wear football jerseys designed for 20-something football players?

· Has Ohio State ever produced an "i-dotting" tuba player who went on to play in the National Symphony?

· How are bird-fearing fans expected to act when that very large American eagle flaps around the stadium right before kickoff?

· Right around the time they got the eagle in the cage, Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. ran back the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. Could be a long night, I thought, probably resulting in having to buy the editor in the XXL OSU sweat shirt an expensive dinner this month.

· Was this the same Chris Leak (MVP on 25-of-36 passing for 213 yards) whom many Gators fans wanted replaced all season?

· How did the score become 34-14 Florida at halftime, with previously hapless Gators place kicker Chris Hetland hitting on field goals from 42 and 40 yards?

· Who knew UF defensive end Derrick Harvey (Eleanor Roosevelt), who had three sacks, is a local? Does Harvey know about the D.C. Gator Club?

· Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner, on the 41-14 final score: "Florida was great. If this is the worst thing in my life, that's cool." I think Smith is cool.

· Leak on his four-year Gators career: "We're national champs."

· Florida Coach Urban Meyer on his team's reaction to being overlooked by many experts: "You hear that for 30 days, you've got a bunch of tigers."

· On Florida being the only school to hold the national college football and men's basketball titles in the same year? You've got to be kidding.

· Watching the last eight minutes of that game, with Florida comfortably ahead and running out the clock, I thought about my college friend, the 5-foot-8, 148-pound quarterback, Larry Libertore, who left Gainesville with me in 1963. "This was the year of the Gator," Libertore said from Lakeland, Fla., on Thursday. "It seemed they played a close game every week -- until Monday night. What a phenomenal offense. I would love to be a quarterback in that offense," quickly adding it might be too late for that. "I'm 67, you know."

I know.

Finally

· One suggestion the Nationals might consider to reverse the public relations disaster over cutting ties with former manager Frank Robinson is to offer him a job as a color commentator on the team's television and radio broadcasts. Even if Robinson rejects such an offer, which he likely would do, at least the Nats would have made an effort to ease the slight.

· I couldn't be happier for former Baltimore Orioles star Cal Ripken, who was elected this past week, along with Tony Gwynn, to the Hall of Fame. Ripken gave area fans who did not have a team of their own an incentive to follow the game with his stellar play and model citizenship. His record of 2,632 consecutive games played isn't likely to be matched, and fans here greatly admired him.

· Updates on stadiums: I can't believe the progress they're making on the new baseball stadium in Southeast (scheduled to open in 2008) and admire the plans for the 27,000-seat soccer facility at Poplar Point in Anacostia for 2009. Also, don't discount the possibility, as suggested this week by Post columnist Marc Fisher, of the Redskins someday moving from FedEx Field in Landover back into the District to a new stadium on the site of RFK. If that's what the owner (Daniel Snyder) wants, it's likely to happen.

Have a question or comment? Reach me at talkback@washpost.com.


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