WASHINGTON, November 20, 2012 — David Beckham is leaving the Los Angeles Galaxy and Major League Soccer. Once again, Beckham, the soccer and fashion icon, is making international news.
The “Age of Beckham” began in America when the talented English midfielder signed with MLS in January 2007. The Beckham-era will end on Dec. 1, 2102 when he takes the field for the last time with the Galaxy. His club of six years will host the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup at the Home Depot Center on live TV. Beckham says he is moving on to “experience one last challenge before the end” of his playing career.
It’s safe to say, that while Beckham was not everyones cup of tea, he did put MLS and the Galaxy on the world soccer map. He will be hoping to go out in glory, and you can bet the world press will be looking for a storybook ending: a trademark Beckham free-kick to seal the game. Houston will have other ideas.
To be honest, before Beckham, MLS didn’t register much on the international sports radar. After Beckham’s arrival, the world knew what MLS was: soccer had a place in the U.S. and big-time players sought the league out.
Beckham’s decision to announce his departure just 13 days before the MLS Cup is certainly interesting. It once more draws the world’s attention to MLS. That said, it does create a PR nightmare for the Galaxy as the club prepares to hopefully claim a fourth title and the mantle of MLS soccer’s greatest club.
Where will Beckham go? No one knows for sure. There are offers from clubs in Australia. Cash-fueled Paris club PSG is in the bidding, and there are rumors of a possible move to Celtic. Helping put the A-League in Australia on the would soccer map would certainly be the kind of challenge for Beckham, and fertile ground for his wife’s fashion business. Who knows? China may be calling.
Beckham entered MLS in the league’s 12th season and it changed everything. The day he signed, I remember the BBC sending a car out to my newspaper - an outpost on the border of Washington D.C. - to bring me to the their downtown offices in for an interview.
I asked a soccer writer at Britain’s Times newspaper about Beckham’s move to America.
“You’ll get a good two years out of Beckham and then his own personal commercial interests, as well a his pop singer wife’s, will take over and you won’t be able to marry the two,” he told me.
A sports reporter at the BBC was more prophetic, when I asked him about Beckham’s chances in MLS: “If Beckham can adapt his game, he can last five years. He’s never been reliant on pace. He’s more of a ball player who can make a great pass, and that is something you can keep going into your late 30s.”
Beckham may have lost a step or two when he arrived in L.A, but he still had the clever moves. For six, somewhat turbulent, years, he has delighted MLS fans with the deadly curling passes - where he seemingly bends the ball at great speed without overplaying the kick - the dead-ball skills and the intelligent runs. His passes from the flanks have been a nightmare for goalies but a joy for forwards, where just the slightest touch can send the ball into the net.
However, his stint in the States didn’t begin on the right foot, well, especially that left ankle. Beckham arrived from winning a title with Real Madrid in Spain injured.
The Galaxy failed to make the playoffs in his first two seasons in 2007 and 2008. His most high-profile teammate on the Galaxy, Landon Donovan, publicly questioned Beckham’s commitment to the club in a widely publicized book: “The Beckham Experiment” by Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl. Life with the Galaxy and Beckham it appeared, had all the intrigue surrounding a medieval royal court. It appeared, MLS’s experiment with the famed midfielder was heading for a very expensive and embarrassing failure. But things got better. Beckham helped the Galaxy reach the 2009 MLS Cup where it lost to the upstart Real Salt Lake. In 2010 and 2011, the Galaxy was the best team in the league in the regular season, and Beckham helped them win the 2011 MLS Cup. This season Beckham scored seven goals, and after a shaky start, the Galaxy are back in the MLS Cup to face Houston again.
Yes, Beckham did frustrate American fans at times. He went off on two loan stints at AC Milan, busting his Achilles heel in the later episode which resulted in missing a chunk of the 2010 season. Overall, he played in just 98 out of a possible 176 MLS league games and scored 18 goals. But Beckham rebounded from his injuries. On the field he always gave as much as he could and worked hard. He played in 16 playoff games; helped his team win two Supporters’ Shields and reach three MLS Cup finals.
Beckham first gained fame playing for Manchester United, with whom he won six league championships and Europe’s Champions League title. He is the only English player to have scored at three World Cups.
Beckham was a part of the amazing 1992 youth team at Manchester, which produced Gary and Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Keith Gillespie, Robbie Savage and Ryan Giggs.
He made headlines when he scored a stunning goal against Wimbledon from the halfway line in 1996. Soon he was playing for the national team at the 1998 World Cup in France. Then came the worst moment in his career: In a nail-biting game against Argentina, with the score tied at 2-2, Beckham was ejected for a stupid foul. England lost in the penalty shootout and Beckham was blamed for dooming England’s chances. But Beckham rose from the ashes of despair, not only to become one of England’s best-loved soccer players, but also an ambassador for his country helping with the bid for the 2012 London Olympics. Whether you like him or not, Beckham has certainly left his mark on the American sports landscape, and it has been for the better.
* For 20 years John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon
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