David Beckham helped make America at large turn its head and take notice of soccer. Going back, here are the major moments in the Beckham legacy and imprint on the United States soccer scene:
The big, showy announcement in Los Angeles: Everyone knew the Beckham tsunami was en route to Major League Soccer by early 2007. So his arrival July 12 introduction was certainly no surprise.
But the show! It’s all about the show, after all, when it comes to Brand Beckham and all that it implies.
Everyone important in domestic soccer was at Home Depot Center during a nationally televised introductory news conference – words not often strung together when it comes to soccer in the States, don’t you know. It was full of pomp and rockets and more than a few shrieking girls.
Beckham, his wife Victoria, and their three sons began their celebrated, much-photographed life in the United States. Oh, the Galaxy had already sold 250,000 replica jerseys by that sunny afternoon of high praise and golden promises.
Beckham’s MLS debut, July 22, 2007: Officially speaking, MLS began cashing the Brand Beckham checks in late July of 2007, as the former England captain and his gimpy left ankle made its long-awaited Galaxy debut in the 1-0 loss to Chelsea (in a friendly). One of the most celebrated nights of soccer ever in the United States had a big touch of the surreal. What I wrote at the time: “What a mad scene at the Home Depot Center, all at once an exercise in patience (due to that uncooperative left ankle) and a three-ring circus of traps, passes and paparazzi. Major League Soccer officially began cashing in on the nationally televised Beckham ballyhoo Saturday. Even if his 12 minutes on the field were mostly uneventful, the night was certainly unforgettable.”
Aug. 18, 2007, New York Red Bulls-LA Galaxy: There was so much pre-game build-up to this one, the notoriously uncooperative crew from Giants Stadium even removed those awful white football lines. How about that!
The Beckham spectacle was in full effect for his first official trip into New York. A crowd of 66,237 were there at Giants Stadium in what became an assault to anyone who enjoys their soccer with just a hint of defense. But it was entertaining and high-scoring, and it was nationally televised. Final score: Galaxy 5, Red Bulls 4.
The Beckham book: How rare it is that a soccer book gets the high-profile “excerpt” treatment. Maybe in England or Argentina or wherever – but not the United States! And yet there it was, the Beckham experiment in the large-distribution channels.
Grant Wahl’s book, published in 2009, “The Beckham Experiment,” pulled back the curtain on the combustible relationship between Beckham and Landon Donovan, the first and second-most recognizable names in American soccer at the time.
I wrote about the book back then: “Donovan and other Galaxy players question Beckham’s commitment. Additionally, the book details clumsy efforts to placate the Beckham camp’s desire that he immediately be named captain upon his ballyhooed 2007 arrival. And the loopy circumstances are revealed surrounding the organization’s introduction of Ruud Gullit as manager.”
Beckham’s final match, MLS Cup 2012: Like it or not – and a bunch of us found the timing rather tacky and a bit self-serving – the presiding narrative of MLS Cup 2012 was all about Beckham. He announced prior to Major League Soccer’s finale that the match would mark his final kick of ball here. He was moving on.
Yes, it did suck attention away from the teams and other “peripheral” figures, a.k.a. the other 21 starters, the two coaches and any key backups. But it make the occasion bigger, and isn’t that, at its core, what Beckham was always all about for MLS?