David Is Goliath

David Beckham was in the middle of it all at RFK Stadium on Thursday night, at long last making his MLS debut against D.C. United at packed RFK Stadium.
David Beckham was in the middle of it all at RFK Stadium on Thursday night, at long last making his MLS debut against D.C. United at packed RFK Stadium. (By Haraz N. Ghanbari -- Associated Press)
By George Solomon
Sunday, August 12, 2007

'A great night for soccer," is how Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer, referred to D.C. United's 1-0 victory over David Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy before 46,686 fans at sold-out RFK Stadium on Thursday.

"I wasn't surprised at the size of the crowd because there's only one David Beckham," said Kevin Payne, president and chief executive of United. But, Payne added with a grin, aware that Beckham's tender left ankle had made his playing status questionable, "until he finally got into the game [with about 20 minutes remaining], I was plotzing."

"It was like watching a rock star," said Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals.

"I give him [Beckham] credit. He went out and gave people a good show even though he was not 100 percent," said United midfielder and captain Ben Olsen, who, in a time-honored soccer tradition, received Beckham's jersey after the game. (How much could Ben get for that shmatte today on eBay?)

And so Beckham's MLS debut is history. There was a blur of camera flashes every time the 32-year-old celebrity millionaire midfielder moved a muscle from the beginning of the game all the way through to the end of the rainy night. It all happened in front of a national television audience (ESPN2) with 325 media members representing all of Europe, Africa, Japan, China. They joined Lindsay and the guys from 5, 7, 9, Comcast SportsNet and WTOP-FM, and, of course, Wilbon.

If Becks, as we often refer to him in the U.K., is not the savior of MLS, or soccer in America, don't tell that to thousands of young women who arrived at RFK with Beckham signs and Beckham jerseys with their cameras and cellphones in hand to take more pictures of Beckham. (Mrs. Beckham, Posh Spice, was not in attendance, to the dismay of fellow hipsters.)

I asked my office neighbor, Mary Pat, what women find so appealing about Beckham?

"Well, he's handsome, approachable, fit and not snotty at all," she said. "And he's hot and very rich." And, according to Forbes magazine, he's No. 2 among athletes on the world's most powerful celebrity list behind only Tiger Woods and just ahead of Feinstein.

"Seeing the reaction from the fans was great," Beckham said after the game. "We filled another stadium, and that's what the sport needs. Everyone knows the standard [of play] here is different [from Europe], but we're on the right track."

If " the right track" means more exposure for a scrappy D.C. United team, its energetic fan clubs that cheer and sing the entire game, and another push for that new soccer stadium at Poplar Point, I say fine. Do we need to remind area pols that in the 33 years Major League Baseball left Washington for dead, soccer was alive and kicking?

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