Friday, November 30, 2012

Examining the Beckham Experiment

On the eve of David Beckham's final game for the LA Galaxy and in the MLS, Sensible Soccer proudly brings to you it's very first guest post! And it's a must read... Enjoy people.

I have fond memories of the LA Galaxy - NY Red Bull match at Giants Stadium on a balmy summer evening in August 2007. The game was a thriller -- the sellout crowd was treated to a 5-4 win for the home team that featured Jozy Altidore, Juan Pablo Angel and Clint Mathis (remember him?). But most of the 65,000+ people packed in to Giants Stadium were not there as Red Bull supporters, nor were they there to watch the sloppy play, shoddy defending or frenetic pace that characterized this particular match. No, we were there to see David Beckham's first match in New Jersey as an MLS player. More accurately, we were there to take 50 or 60 pictures of him swinging in one of his trademark free kicks.

And now, 6 seasons later, the Beckham MLS affair is coming to an end. On Saturday, David Beckham will don the LA Galaxy kit for the final time in a competitive match when his Galaxy take on the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup final. This marks the end of an era that began in 2007 with all the glitz and glamor you'd expect from the Hollywood premiere of an international icon. Even as he's battled injury and the onset of age, there's no question he's made an impact as a player. The technique and vision we all witnessed in his fabled East Rutherford debut -- two assists, dangerous set pieces, and defense splitting passes -- were prevalent throughout his MLS career when he was healthy enough to take the field. Add in a bit of arrogance and few doses of petulance and an indomitable work ethic largely unnoticed by casual fans and you've got David Beckham, American Player.

But I'm not really interested in debating his legacy as a player. When healthy, Beckham was in a class above the vast majority of his league peers. Though his career was slow out of the gate due to injury, he put in an All-Star performance in 2011, tallying 20 assists. He followed up with a strong 2012, especially during the Galaxy's turn around in the second half of the season and their progress through the playoffs -- only he and Mike Magee have started every Galaxy playoff game. And during his tenure, the Galaxy have gotten the results, too; three MLS Cup final appearances and one (perhaps two) titles.

What's entirely more interesting and difficult to analyze is Beckham's overall impact on soccer in the US and what that will mean for the future of the sport. Love him or hate him, David Beckham has probably changed the game in the US more than any other individual ever. There's no arguing that he's been instrumental in the rise of soccer's popularity in the US and the acceptance (albeit a reluctant, lukewarm acceptance) of the MLS as an actual, professional sports league. The mere potential of his interest in moving here literally caused the MLS to change its rules when it launched the Designated Player rule to accommodate his arrival. He opened the door for other international stars like Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, and the immortal John Rooney (Wayne's kid brother) to play the beautiful game on our home soil. And while he undoubtedly did well for himself financially, he also helped bring home the bacon for the league. The Beckham experiment led to a league expansion from 12 to 19 teams, big TV contracts, a boost in attendance, and increased exposure at home and abroad.

While not the only factor in the rise of soccer here, David Beckham was the driving force, the icebreaker that paved the way. Beckham wasn't the first international star to play soccer here, and he certainly won't be the last, but his arrival was different. It came at the most opportune time, and like two shrewd businessmen, both the league and team Beckham capitalized. But the real question is: what happens next? Is the Beckham Experiment the template the league needs to follow to thrive? Does aging star power + sponsorship deals + average domestic talent = soccer success in America?

Stay tuned to find out..

In the meantime, I'll leave you with these 3 classic Beckham goals against my beloved Timbers that I was fortunate enough to witness. 2 were in the face of the Timbers Army. All 3 were things of beauty.

-- John LaRose - Sensible Soccer MLS/USMNT Correspondent


  1. Good stuff.
    This John LaRose character behind the keyboard reminds me of Falcao with a futsal ball at his feet.

  2. It's clear he also has the vision of Edgar Davids wearing a new pair of protective glasses.