May 12, 2012
May 7, 2012
May 5, 2012
So David Beckham might leave Los Angeles Galaxy. The transfer rumor shop says that he’ll go to Paris Saint Germain and has produced a list of compelling evidence to prove it.
Beckham is comfortable, because he doesn’t need to play particularly well to rake in his millions. Some call him the greatest soccer star of his generation. Beckham accomplished many great feats, but to place him ahead of Ronaldo or Zidane is ludicrous. Beckham will continue his practice of being a great star, who happens to have been a formidable soccer player.
In Los Angeles, Beckham was criticized for lacking motivation and being more interested in his five-minute appearances for the English national team than in his MLS games. His successful loans to Milan were attempts to join the English national team and an unsubtle reminder to his employers that his team’s success wasn’t his principal concern.
Whichever team buys the 36-year-old Beckham will be after nothing more than name value. The prestige that comes with having Beckham on your roster, with Posh Spice in tow, is just as tempting as the bills are hefty. Beckham is past his prime. Well past his prime. There is no shortage of players who are younger, more skilled, and less expensive.
But let’s face it. Our own Major League Soccer and Los Angeles Galaxy orchestrated his 2007 transfer from Real Madrid for this reason. Galaxy didn’t purchase him to increase their chances of winning the MLS Cup.
What brought Beckham to America was the vision of the most famous soccer player deigning to play in humble MLS. This move was supposed to create a tsunami of media coverage for an under-appreciated league. It did. This move was supposed to raise the credibility of the league so that MLS could gain recognition abroad. It did.
Beckham was not the first soccer star to play in MLS. He was preceded by Lothar Matthaus, Hristo Stoichkov, and Carlos Valderrama. It is unlikely that he will be the last, with fresh rumors about a possible Alessandro Del Piero move.
But after Beckham’s five-year stint, it’s clear that signing a star doesn’t translate to success on the pitch. Galaxy thrived this season with their three Designated Players, who don’t need to fit in to the MLS salary cap.
However, MLS’s Most Valuable Player this season was Dwayne De Rosario of DC United, who isn’t well known outside the United States and his native Canada. Like a crafty investor, a successful MLS coach must find inexpensive options who will improve.
Houston Dynamo, Columbus Crew, Real Salt Lake, and the Colorado Rapids all won the title during the Beckham era without having a star, let alone three. New York Red Bulls’ struggles this season emphasize that signing the likes of Rafael Marquez and Thierry Henry won’t bring you success. It’s less famous players such as Houston Dynamo’s Brad Davis and FC Dallas’ Brek Shea who will win games.
Yet, for the development of soccer in the United States, famous players are necessary. American basketball, football and baseball all claim the world’s best. Without big names, American soccer would be at an even greater disadvantage. Someone needs to get fans out to the game. Famous players like Beckham somehow manage to do it.
This is not to suggest that the MLS follow the Gulf State policy of supporting a nursing home for aging soccer players, or the Portuguese motel for players who are on their way to some place better. Instead, it should recruit younger players who have a bright future and are willing to spend their careers in MLS.
The passion at Toronto’s BMO Field or Portland’s Jeld-Wen Field is something to emulate. Many big-league European teams would crave the huge crowd at Seattle Sounders games. Success can be achieved partly, but not completely, through expensive players.
Not all MLS franchises should take the same measures to improve their popularity. Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC need to produce better results to satisfy their fan base, not a David Beckham type transfer. These teams need to nurture the younger generation and identify players who will bring pride to the fan base.
For less popular teams such as New England Revolution and Chicago Fire, such transfers will raise much needed support.
MLS faces many challenges. A restrictive salary cap makes it difficult to compete with European wages. Youth development is sub-standard.
But MLS has the advantage of being in the world's biggest economy, in a country that is much more pleasant to live in than many of the European alternatives. The ultimate goal would be to let these players know that playing in the United States isn’t just a way to extend a career. MLS should evolve into a destination for players seeking to improve themselves, a championship for younger players to start a successful career, and a place for older players to generate enthusiasm.
Famous players are the most visible purchases, but they are not the most essential. Now that Beckham has legitimized MLS, it needs younger players with more potential.