Wileman: Beckham leaves MLS a much stronger league

Luke Wileman
11/20/2012 6:21:08 PM
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David Beckham is a polarizing figure, but whether you love or hate him, there's little doubt of the impact he has made during his time in Major League Soccer.

Since Monday night when LA Galaxy confirmed MLS Cup will be Beckham's last match with the club, there has been much talk about how successful the league's "Beckham Experiment" has been.

In my view, there shouldn't be much of a debate. There's no doubt he leaves MLS a much stronger league than when he arrived in 2007. Obviously, the league's strong health is not just because of Beckham, but he has played a massive role in lifting the game in North America to a higher level.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber summed it up well in his statement following the release of the news: "When David Beckham signed with the LA Galaxy in 2007, he set out to help grow MLS and the sport of soccer in North America. There is no doubt that MLS is far more popular and important here and abroad than it was when he arrived."

"David has achieved great things on and off the field during his time with the Galaxy, and he will always be an important part of our history. We look forward to his continued involvement with the LA Galaxy and the league," said Garber.

Down the road, that continued involvement could well be in ownership of an MLS club, but for now the rumour mill is cranked up and clubs around the world are vying for Beckham's services. Will it be PSG? Australia? Brazil? Back home in England? Or maybe a union with Snoop Dog at Celtic? The many and varied possibilities will be talked about in great detail until Beckham reveals his next move, which is expected to happen before Christmas.

The fact there are so many options highlights the effect Beckham can have on a team both on and off the pitch. Clubs around the world have seen the impact the former England midfielder has made in MLS and want to taste that for themselves.

"Seldom does an athlete redefine a sport and David not only took our franchise to another level but he took our sport to another level," said Tim Leiweke, President and CEO of LA Galaxy owners Anschutz Entertainment Group. "It has been an honor and privilege to be a part of his world, and more importantly, to have him be a part of ours."

Saying Beckham re-defined the sport may be going a step too far, but soccer in the United States? Absolutely. So what was the impact? For me, there are two big reasons why Beckham's time here has been a success. First is the way his presence helped people across North America take notice of the league. Sold out stadiums partnered with increased revenue for MLS from corporate partnerships, TV deals and merchandise sales were all immediate benefits of Beckham's arrival.

However, perhaps the biggest way Beckham has influenced Major League Soccer has been by lifting its profile amongst players around the world. Beckham's arrival in MLS in 2007 legitimized MLS as a playing option for many European players and in years since, other big names have followed. Speaking with players who have made the switch and some who are considering it, they all point to Beckham joining LA as the moment in time when they began to take serious notice of Major League Soccer.

Of course, there are many other reasons why the league has been on an upward trajectory in recent years, including the highly successful clubs that have been added to MLS through expansion, but Beckham is the reason why, overnight, the league took a step up in importance on the world football ladder.

Despite the impact Beckham has had in MLS, there were many times in his North American career when his presence here was questioned.  LA missed the playoffs in his first two seasons when there appeared to be a big divide between some of the club's major players. Loan spells at AC Milan were seen by some as a distraction, as were trips to London for the 2012 Olympics. But in the end, it was all worth it.

When the curtain comes down on Beckham's MLS career, the league will continue to grow and thrive, but Beckham will forever be one of its key building blocks.

LA Galaxy take on Houston Dynamo in MLS Cup at the Home Depot Center live on TSN on Saturday, December 1 at 4:30pm et/1:30pm pt.

David Beckham (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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