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Does Beckham Really Make a Difference?

The hype around David Beckham’s arrival in Los Angeles is far greater than I anticipated in the mainstream American media. It seems the celebrity of Beckham is trumping the actual analysis of what this does for the football on the MLS pitch. In its simplicity and ignorance, the American media has decided to compare Beckham’s arrival to that of Pele’ in 1975. In no way shape or form is this signing by MLS similar to the signing by the Cosmos of Pele’, claiming they both arrived on American soil as “saviors” of the game in this country.

For starters in 1975, the US hardly was able to field a national team, and had not sniffed World Cup qualification in a quarter century. Now in 2007, the US are regulars at every major international event FIFA hosts, and in fact team USA boasts the fifth longest streak for consecutive World Cup Finals appearances in the world. In 1975, the game did not exist in any form on television in the US . Fast forward to 2007, and you have two 24 hour channels based in the US whose entire programming is dedicated to the beautiful game in addition to countless other matches of both international competitions and the domestic league on mainstream cable channels. In other words, American soccer doesn’t need a “savior” as the media portrays. Lastly, Pele? is the greatest player to ever play the game. While David Beckham is certainly a world class set piece taker, he isn’t the sort of football player average Americans ignorant of the sport understand. You need to appreciate the game to appreciate David Beckham as a footballer. Pele? on the other hand transcended the sport and was easily admired by all.

Major League Soccer is well established league unlike the NASL in 1975, even if some of MLS’ business practices are somewhat peculiar for the tastes of international football fans like myself. However, MLS has an existing business model that has worked well, and while Beckham enhances that product from a financial standpoint, other questions remain. Contrary to the opinions of some in the British press, the league has had its fair share of top international players in the past. What David Beckham does to improve the quality of play MLS, which is the stated goal of Commissioner Don Garber, is subject to debate. In the history of MLS, no single player with the possible exception of a highly under rated Canadian named Dwayne DeRosario has single handedly shifted the balance of power within the league. This is a league that has had such international stars as Carlos Valderamma, Marco Ethcheverry, Lothar Matthaus, Luis Hernandez, Roberto Donadoni, Hugo Sanchez, Branco, Carlos Hermosillo, and Yourri Djorkaeef. True, some of the above mentioned players were near the ends of their career when they came to MLS, but their quality cannot be questioned. In addition future European based international players such as Shaun Bartlett, Simon Elliot, Junior Agogo, Ryan Nelson and Stern John spent the formative years of their career in MLS. I will admit however, that MLS took a definitive step away from spending on big name international players in 2002. It is no coincidence that at the very same time young American national team players like DaMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey began looking for their first ticket out of the league as well. MLS has now corrected that error and thus the level of play has once again reached the standard of the 1996 to 2000 time period, which was the best in league history. (From 1997 to 2000, MLS clubs played in the finals of five international club competitions. Since 2001, MLS clubs have played in NONE).

As I have stated on many occasions recently, Beckham is now playing for one of the worst run franchises in the history of MLS. Since the untimely death of Doug Hamilton, the former GM of the Galaxy (and of the Miami Fusion) in a plane crash last year, the Galaxy have turned over its entire roster save four players and have already dumped a number of players they brought to the squad in the last year. Last season was the first time in club history they failed to reach the MLS Playoffs, and despite the acquisition of a world class midfielder, I have my doubts they will reach the playoffs this season.

While I’m excited to see a world class player in person on American soil, the signing of Beckham has been widely overstated on both sides of the pond. American Soccer is well off with or without Beckham in MLS, and Beckham’s arrival doesn’t indicate an upsurge in quality of play in the league either. It’s simply the signing of another top player and indication that after several seasons of curtailing spending on big name players (from 2002 thru 2006), MLS is ready to compete in the international transfer market much as it did from 1996 to 2001.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

17 Responses to Does Beckham Really Make a Difference?

  1. A Wise Man says:

    Look, I know what you are saying about MLS quality declining between 2001 and 2006. You are right, but understand after the spending spree of 1999-2000 bringing in lots of international guys who played in France 1998, the league’s finances were a mess. Thank goodness for Stern John and Ryan Nelson who you mentioned: both fetched the league a pretty penny and compensated for the transfer fees wasted on Hernandez, Graziani and all the other guys looking for a paid holiday.

    The league contracted and operated on a tight budget. Now our finances thanks to Garber are better than 1999 and we can go out and get guys like Beckham and Angel to enhance the product in this league.

  2. Sams Army says:

    Your bias against the Galaxy never seizes does it?

  3. Anonymous says:

    A good read. Nice points

  4. Soccer Guru says:

    I agree the league took a dramatic downturn at least in terms of the type of foreign talent exported after 2000. However, you seem to forget that the overall talent in the league of American players improved, as the very semi pro nature initially of most of the americans who filled out the rosters after the prized allocations were assigned in the early years were glorified post college players or guys who actually had played semi-pro soocer. So while the sexy names from MLS disappeared the overall quality of the squads has improved as the league got older.

  5. tyduffy says:

    Amen

  6. Anonymous says:

    Soccer Guru,

    The overall talent of the league has not improved. Yes the American talent has but losing guys like El Diablo, El Pibe, and Donadoni and not replacing them with a player of even half the caliber makes a league a whole lot worse.

  7. MJ says:

    Kartik, did you honestly just say that the LA Galaxy are “arguably the worst run franchise in American soccer”? That comment couldn’t be any more off base, and let me tell you briefly why.

    1. The LA Galaxy were the first team in MLS history to turn a profit in a season, and they’re one of only two teams ever to make a profit (FC Dallas).

    2. They have the largest soccer-specific stadium in MLS (27,000), one which is used often by the men’s and women’s US National Team.

    3. They’re coached by Frank Yallop, who played 385 games for Ipswich Town, led the San Jose Earthquakes to a championship in his first season as head coach (in 2001, when he was the MLS Coach of the Year) and another championship in 2003, and has coached the Canadian national team.

    4. They’re owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which also owns other sports teams throughout the world, including the NHL’s LA Kings and their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, five European hockey franchises, the Chicago Fire, and the Houston Dynamo. The group also has interests in the LA Lakers, LA Sparks, and Hammarby (a Swedish soccer team).

    5. They’ve won the MLS Cup twice and been runners-up three times.

    But yes, they’re the worst run franchise in American soccer.

  8. Kartik says:

    Yes, I did say that.

    I’m not taking into account all of the good things AEG and the Galaxy accomplished prior to March 2006 when Doug Hamilton died in that plane crash. I am specifically speaking of the period of time since Lalas has become the GM. Much like his failed tenure in New York, Lalas has little clue to handle personnel and if you look at the Galaxy squad today, their depth and overall quality is among the worst in the league. This is after as you correctly point out they won the MLS Cup just two years ago, and after years and years where the MLS has turned a blind eye when the Galaxy ran over the salary cap while punishing teams in smaller markets like San Jose and DC United for the same exact thing. So yes they are one of the worst at this moment in time.

  9. Kartik says:

    I would also point out that Frank Yallop whom I respect greatly made perhaps the mistake of his coaching life quiting the Canadian National Team post to lead this rag tag group of players. Compare the Galaxy squad that won MLS Cup in 2005 to today’s and you’ll find maybe 3 or 4 holdovers in two years. That’s Lalas’ meddling and contantly trying to put band aids over problems. (Like trading Sturgis and Findley to RSL for Klein. Do you really think long term that can be anything but a bad trade? Same for trading Gomez and Imehlu (sp?) to the Rapids for Cannon. Another trade of two 20 somethings for a 30 something.)

  10. MJ says:

    Admittedly, Lalas has made some questionable moves since becoming GM of that team. Trading Nathan Sturgis away was, as you said, a bad move but to Lalas, he became expendable when Xavier arrived from Middlesbrough.

    Like anything, there’s always two sides to an argument and yours is just as valid as mine. Well-said, well-said.

  11. USA2010 says:

    You Galaxy sympathizers are pathetic.

    Look at this fact: The franchise in San Jose won just as many MLS Cups (and another after moving to Houston) as the Gals with a fraction of the resources (stadium, player salary, player allocations).

    Anshitz is trying to capture the lightning in a bottle that was the Earthquakes – Cannon, Donovan, Yallop, etc. while ignoring the real solid franchise – DeRo, Clark, Kinnear.

  12. USA2010 says:

    Oh, and trying to cop Real Madrid’s uniform design and color scheme is cute.

    I hope they didn’t spend too much time coming up with that bland logo.

  13. MJ says:

    If you were labeling me as a Galaxy sympathizer, I suggest you retract that statement. Fact is, I couldn’t care less about MLS, I follow the EPL far more than I will ever follow the MLS. My argument was based on the fact that there are far worse-run teams in the league than the LA Galaxy (New York Red Bull, Real Salt Lake, etc.).

  14. football detective says:

    New York Red Bull and Real Salt Lake aren’t very good examples.

    NYRB has made strides since they were acquired and became RedBull. (And fired Lalas).

    Do you really want to compare Galaxy to an expansion franchise? They’re the only thing keeping LA off the bottom of the table.

    MJ – you seem to have strong opinions about something you claim to care less about.

  15. MJ says:

    Of course I have strong opinions; would you rather me say nothing at all when I feel that a comment or argument made is completely inaccurate??

  16. Anonymous says:

    FYI … Doug Hamilton died of a heart attack, not a plane crash.

  17. Josiah of Footy Fame says:

    Yup, K you messed up on that one. He did die on a plane, but the plane didn’t crash. He had a heart attack and they made an emergency landing because of his heart attack not because of a crash. Still the point is he died on a plane suddenly, and the Galaxy haven’t been the same since.

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