Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Saturday will mark the end of the most
historic and momentous era in MLS history.
Yes, the Los Angeles Galaxy will look to repeat as MLS Cup champions when they
face the Houston Dynamo at The Home Depot Center, but the build-up to the
title match has been overshadowed by the impending departure of one man: David
The English superstar, one of the most recognizable faces on the planet, made
waves last week when he announced that his tenure in MLS will come to end,
revealing that Saturday's clash with Houston will be his final appearance in a
Beckham signed with MLS in 2007 and a media firestorm fittingly followed. The
move was heralded a masterstroke by those eager to watch one of the world's
most renowned athletes, but others labeled the coup a publicity stunt to raise
the profile of the budding league while offering the aging midfielder a chance
to check into an early form of retirement.
Five years later, MLS Commissioner Don Garber professed that Beckham has "over
delivered on every measure" during his six seasons in Los Angeles.
"There's arguably not a soccer fan on this planet who doesn't know the L.A.
Galaxy and MLS, and David played a significant role in helping us make that
happen," Garber said on Monday in a media teleconference call. "We needed
David Beckham in 2007 to help drive our credibility, to help grow our
popularity. We don't need anything today to get us to the next level. It's a
wide variety of initiatives."
Beckham has been essential to helping MLS achieve new heights on and off the
pitch, and Garber remains fixated on building upon that success in the future.
"I don't believe we're going to be hurting when David leaves," Garber said.
"I'm not saying this as commissioner's spin. David got us to a point and we're
going to take it higher and not look back."
That is ambitious, to say the least.
Sure, MLS has a wealth of potential. League-wide average attendance continues
to rise after surpassing those of the NBA and the NHL. With more eyeballs on
the product, advertising revenue has increased.
But all of these victories can be tied to the Beckham effect. The 37-year-old
drew a crowd wherever he traveled for away matches, increasing ticket sales
one game at a time for clubs that otherwise would have a tough time reaching
And where was all of the sponsorship money before Beckham's arrival? More
importantly, will it still be there after he's gone? It certainly can be.
Regardless of Garber's lofty expectations for where he sees MLS heading post-
Beckham, there needs to be a face to put the league front-and-center in the
minds of global football fans.
Thierry Henry could be that person. The Frenchman signed with Red Bull New
York in 2010 and has experienced moderate success, but like Beckham, until he
is able to secure some silverware, his impact in MLS will remain in question.
Landon Donovan, who has shouldered a bulk of the promotional responsibilities
for MLS over the course his career, is another possibility. Donovan has been
the face of the league before, but it is unclear whether the Galaxy attacker
will be wearing the team's shirt next season.
"He started as a teenager and he spent his entire life committed to the sport,
and I sympathize with what he is experiencing in trying to soul-search and
trying to figure out what his future might hold on and off the field," Garber
said. "Landon not only has to be a great player, but Landon also carried a lot
of the promotional burden of promoting the sport for a decade or more on his
shoulders. He played during the day and had to promote it at night, and that's
Robbie Keane is well-positioned to immediately take up Beckham's mantle. The
Ireland international joined Los Angeles last season and has been instrumental
in the club's journey to MLS Cup this term. He has benefited greatly from
superb midfield service, but is he ready to provide the same level of success
with Beckham, and potentially Donovan, departing?
There are plenty of Designated Players around that the league who can help
raise the global profile of the league, but unless Torsten Frings, Danny
Koevermans, Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta can make Toronto FC and the
Montreal Impact, respectively, relevant franchises, the influence of their
footprint on the league will be small.
MLS is a league rooted in development, and while it invests a great deal of
resources into nurturing young talent (a necessary measure), it is important
to remember that there needs to be some sort of striking entity to sell the
product on the big stage.
That onus is still up for grabs. And whether Garber wants to admit it, someone
needs to accept that role to prevent MLS from taking a step back.
The Sports Network