David Beckham has arrived in LA-LA land, his wife already had a show on TV and Becks is scheduled to make his LA Galaxy and MLS debut this Saturday in an exhibition match against English Premier League giant Chelsea. This is a big deal, no matter what anybody says. People are talking about it, sportswriters are writing about it (good or bad) and it has increased, at least momentarily, interest in the MLS. This was the intended result of Beckham’s signing. Another reason, and in my mind perhaps the most important one, for his signing was to legitimize the league in the eyes and minds of Americans, Europeans and players around the world. I have always been skeptical about the attainability of this goal and believe David Beckham and league are in a no-win situation regardless of Beckham and the Galaxy’s performance.
At the time of the signing, most people saw it as the typical former superstar player going out to pasture in America, which is indicative of attitudes towards the American soccer league. Beckham had been relegated to the Real Madrid’s bench, which was having a poor season like Becks. On top of it all, Beckham lost his position as England’s captain was dropped from the squad. No big European clubs were interested in signing him and it looked like the pundits were right. Insert LA Galaxy.
This is when LA and MLS got very lucky. Beckham and Real Madrid both had resurgence in form. Beckham started playing well for Real Madrid, scoring goals and making a difference in games; he was recalled to the national team; and, Madrid ended up winning its first La Liga title since his arrival four seasons ago. Everything was turning up roses and Real Madrid even wanted to keep Beckham after saying good riddance only a few months earlier. Beckham, however, was determined to honor his contract and attempt to do something no other soccer player had done—popularize the sport in the U.S. beyond the youth level.
So this is good news right? Well, it doesn’t really matter in the terms of legitimizing the league. Beckham and the MLS can’t win this battle alone. If Beckham and the Galaxy do well, the skeptics, which I think most people are, will say it’s because the competition was inferior. If they do poorly, the skeptics will say Beckham’s resurgence was just a brief irregularity on the downhill side of his career. The MLS can’t win here. The people that have already made up their minds about the MLS won’t be convinced by bringing in Beckham. It will take much more than Beckham.