Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chp. 8) Beckham's Influence

David Beckham would go on to be a big subject matter for my online magazine.  He brought so much character to MLS.  He was impossible to ignore and he lived up to the hype.  He did exactly what he was supposed to do for the sport of soccer in the U.S.  He was loved and at times, hated.

In 2009, I realized how fun and charismatic Beckham was to follow as a sports fan.  I wrote 'Beckham Chases Redemption, Championship' to examine him further.  A fan from the stands challenged the superstar and the exchange went back and forth between them.

When Beckham grew bitter and challenged the 'fan' to come out of the stands, he showed a side of himself that the American public had never seen.  He says he doesn't regret his behavior, but it's his stubborn bravado talking.  He knows he was wrong by being confrontational with a fan.

Ironically, that whole halftime scene might have been exactly what he needed.  It seemed to light a fuse in him and give him more purpose.  Beckham is battling some of the worst scrutiny he has ever had to deal with.  It is him against the world, except he is part of a team, so now its the L.A. Galaxy and him against the world.  There's only one thing that can help him now, his first MLS championship.

David Beckham needs to win a championship this year with the Galaxy for many reasons.  Number one, his reputation is on the line and he needs to qwell his critics.  Number two, he wants to play on his schedule, which means going to AC Milan next year, playing the World Cup and coming back to the Galaxy mid-season.  Number three, it puts Beckham on target for his biggest undertaking, making U.S. pro Soccer a more popular spectator sport.

A championship resolves all his conflicts.  Winning this year with America's biggest Soccer idol, Landon Donovan, won't secure soccer's plight in the U.S., but a second, third and fourth championship may.  David Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy need to become a dynasty to improve soccer's chances of going mainstream and never looking back.  Beckham knows this and he also knows that he has got his Scottie Pippen in Landon.  A dynasty can only begin with the first championship.

The 'fan' probably did Beckham a small favor to keep him focused on his desire to bring soccer to the next level in the U.S., rather than let outside distractions get in the way.  But, Beckham's 'bad-guy' image was undeniable and a natural one for him that would drive business further for MLS, especially when he played well in the clutch.

Twice, in 2009 and 2011, I wrote about Beckham's partnership with Landon Donovan as the best duo U.S. soccer had ever witnessed on the field, 'Beckham, Donovan:  Can There Ever Be a Better Tandem For MLS’ Success?.'  Those two players were extraordinary together, raising the bar forever on expectations of how soccer can be played in the U.S.  Unfortunately, sports fans and sports media weren't responding as they probably should have to the great feats accomplished by Beckham and Donovan.

One wonders what the fallout will be from the disconcerting television ratings of MLS Cup, especially considering the LA Galaxy have possibly the greatest tandem of professional soccer players to ever play together on the same U.S. club team, ever.  Speculating, who knows, this potential greatest tandem hyperbole could stick for the next 50 years.

Add to the dissapointment that when the match went to penalty kicks, the story line was how arguably MLS' greatest player botched his penalty shot.  In other words, Beckham and Donovan, were expected to win and to win flashy, which after the 1st goal, looked to be a possibility.  They lost though.  Too bad, because the league needed the Galaxy to win.

Overall, Beckham and Donovan showed they need help.  They need more superstars, though Ricketts may become one.  Beckham and Donovan must become a dynasty.  Its imperative for MLS' success.  They need to win 3 championships in a row and surround themselves with great players whose names also can become part of the American consciousness.

Had the Galaxy won the 2009 MLS Cup, the doubters to pro Soccer's ascension towards mainstream would have been silenced at least for this year.  More would have been made about the Galaxy's dynasty in the works and how great it is for the League's crossover appeal.  Obviously, there's still a great chance for this league to become a bigtime American sports league.  Expansion and interest are both on the rise.  But the aftermath of this Cup shows that more superstars are needed.

In all the world of Soccer, who would have been a better tandem for an MLS team and which team should it be?  Would Ronaldhino and Altidore playing for D.C. United have been a better attraction to sportsfans?  It would seem for MLS, that nothing could have been better than Beckham, the international superstar of futbol who brings all the glitz, Donovan, the American hope who brings all thats pure about Soccer, and the city with the richest reputation (two letters says it all, 'LA' and one of the coolest nicknames in all of U.S. professional sports, Galaxy) winning the title.

After the 2009 season, Beckham was still chasing an MLS Cup.  He would get his second chance for a title in 2011.

In a sport desperate for stars, the two biggest, Beckham and Donovan, play on the same team.  They get their second chance at a first title on November 20th at home (They lost their first MLS final to Real Salt Lake two seasons ago).  This match will likely exceed expectations on all fronts; ratings, coverage and sales of paraphernalia.  Sports fans know Beckham and Donovan and will have a stronger than average rooting interest.

The U.S. hasn't had pro Soccer club stars of this stature on the same team since Pelè and Beckenbauer (Probably now, though, most casual sports fans wouldn't even recognize the name Beckenbauer).  The biggest star ever was Pelè, but that was more than 30 years ago.

As far as superstar Soccer studs playing in the U.S., they are hard to come by.  It takes a lot to achieve U.S. Soccer superstar status. They are a rare breed, indeed.  Their rareness is due in large part to Soccer's lack of mainstream popularity in the U.S., but also because of the difficulty in racking up big statistical numbers.

For baseball, basket and football, stats are like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  They are constantly bantered about by broadcasters and are displayed on television frequently before, during and after contests.  Statistics have become the most enduring way to connect fans from different generations. They give historical perspective and provide context for the modern game.

In Soccer, due to the difficulty in scoring goals and the lack of any abundance of other great statistical measures, greatness becomes a much more difficult achievement.  In many ways, it is the flare for how the game is played that measures greatness.  In Beckham's case, his set bending kicks, longevity in the game around the world and his reputation as a male underwear model have made his greatness known.  Donovan has done it in a workman-like way.  He has persevered over the years to become a great MLS scorer and National team player.

For MLS to continue to make its play for mainstream status and galvanize support among casual sports fans, they need more stars.  This is agreed at every level, including the Commissioner, Don Garber.  But, where will these stars come from?  Soccer's not like the other sports, where coverage and stats creates stars every season.  MLS must find a way to entice more stars to its league.  Every team needs a tandem that excels, and if possible, tandems that are recognizable names.

Beckham would leave MLS a champion, winning a second time in 2012, to give the LA Galaxy consecutive championships.  He was as significant a star and brand that any soccer personality in the world could provide for a team.  The Galaxy have continued their excellence since and are considered a dynasty.  Beckham, along with Donovan, turned the Galaxy franchise into the power of American club soccer.  The Galaxy had won before, but now it was different.

I summed up Beckham's existence in MLS in 2012, 'Mission Accomplished: Beckham Is Pelé's Equal.'

In regards to U.S. professional Soccer development, from recognition to acceptance, Beckham is Pelé's equal.  If David Beckham never made another goal in MLS, it wouldn't matter.  He has surpassed hopes.  His mission is accomplished.

While it would be horrible and a hard pill to swallow if Beckham was to get hurt and not be able to play again or play to his same abilities (knock on wood), his contribution to boost the MLS profile and pro Soccer in the U.S. is a story of fulfilled expectations that very few athletes can claim.

He has carried the sport for a while.  He was fortunate because he had America's sacred one, the legend, Landon Donovan, with him for the ride.  Donovan has been Beckham's branding partner with the Galaxy, just as Pelé had Beckenbauer with the New York Cosmos.

Beckham is an MLS champion and has made Soccer in the U.S. more exciting to watch.  Comparing what Pelé brought to the NASL of the 1970's to the rise of MLS over the last 6 seasons concludes similarly.  Both leagues are on a significant upswing.

And, with all these accolades from soccer's biggest personality, still for the most part, the American sports media industry was not paying attention to MLS.  The headline grabbing sports scores, stories, profiles, etc. are still the NFL, college football, the NBA, college basketball and MLB.  After Beckham, even tennis, golf, MMA and boxing are still more noteworthy than MLS in mainstream sports-this is the disappointment.  How can it be that Beckham did what he was supposed to do and yet the dial on pro soccer in the U.S. only got turned up a smidge?

No comments:

Post a Comment