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Beckham’s MLS Legacy

Back in 2007, David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles amid much fanfare and celebration among the Galaxy fans. It was a sign that the club would become instant title favourites and that the MLS could attract the best players in world football.

But ten years on has the Beckham effect had a positive impact on the MLS?

First of all, we need to understand Beckham’s influence on the pitch during his time in LA before looking at the bigger picture.

Predictably, the hype machine went into over-drive upon Beckham’s arrival – reports of him signing a $250m deal with LA Galaxy were bound to attract headlines and turn a few heads in the process. But Beckham, despite reaching three MLS cup finals and lifting the trophy in his final game on American soil, was never named the as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the MLS or even made the MLS team of the year.

Beckham was committed and played some very good football stateside but the interest in the MLS hardly went through the roof as a result. A total of just over 1m people in the US tuned to watch Beckham’s farewell in the 3-1 win MLS Cup win over Houston Dynamos, but to give that some context, around 1.7m people in the US watched a delayed match between Liverpool vs Chelsea the same weekend.

It was never going to be easy for Beckham, at the age of 32 and onwards, to make a difference week in, week out in a league renowned for its athleticism and tenacity if nothing else. The legs, and perhaps the mind, were not able to produce the goods on a regular basis.

This can also be illustrated by the star players who, in the twilight of their careers, have followed in Beckham’s footsteps and been attracted by the gleaming lights of the MLS.

Jermaine Defoe and Toronto FC are the perfect case in point. Defoe hit the ground running after signing a four year contract with TFC and scored 11 goals in 16 league matches but the former Spurs man was constantly side-lined with niggling injuries as the MLS and the constant travelling took its toll. It can be an unforgiving league and Defoe lasted just 12 months before jumping at the chance to sign for Premier League Sunderland where he has scored 20 goals in 50 games since.

There have been success stories, of course. Thierry Henry played over 122 games for the New York Red Bulls scored 51 goals and was revered by the fans during his three year spell there. Meanwhile, Robbie Keane played a similar amount of games for the Galaxy and weighed in with a whopping 80 goals.

There appears to be a fine line in the MLS between success and failure for overseas players who come with big reputations and even bigger pay packets. If the club wants to see some meaningful return on their investment, the players need to be prepared for the challenge of the MLS and turn up with the right attitude.

Which cannot be said of former Barcelona star Rafael Marquez. The Mexican international was lured by the glitz and glam of Beckham’s arrival in 2007 and duly signed for New York Red Bulls in 2010.

But he arrived with a terrible attitude and was a bigger disaster than the Titanic. By his own admission, he made the wrong move at the wrong time, but there was no excuse for performances on the pitch and his attitude to the league in whole.

Eric Wynalda, the FOX broadcaster, summed up Marquez’s time in the MLS with an eloquent 140 character tweet “Disgrace. Let’s spend the money on some people. Good people. Not over paid punks who make a mockery of the sport.”

MLS fans have seen more than their fair share of big-money flops in recent times and the landmark of David Beckham putting pen to paper in 2007 has done little to change that.

With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising if the MLS hard-core fan base cringes rather than shouts from the rooftops when the next superstar arrives for one last pay-check to top up their pension pot.