Six years ago, David Beckham arrived in the United States to a mighty fanfare. At 31 years of age and still one of the sport's biggest names, the arrival of Beckham looked as if it could be the catalyst that propelled Major League Soccer into a category befitting its name.
But now, as Beckham announces his intention to leave the Los Angeles Galaxy—his home during his entire American tenure—has the position of soccer in the US really moved on?
In 2007, I wrote an article about Juan Pablo Angel, the former Aston Villa striker who had since moved to the New York Red Bulls. Angel had arrived in the Big Apple under the Designated Player Rule, the very rule that allowed the Galaxy to break their budget cap and sign Beckham.
Both of the players were 31 and neither of them past their prime. These were the types of players, I argued, that would prevent the MLS from going the way of the North American Soccer League in the 70s and 80s.
Big-name foreign players have arrived in the years since—Thierry Henry, Alessandro Nesta and, most recently, Marco Di Vaio to name but three—but none of them have done so during the peak of their careers.
When Beckham left Real Madrid in 2007, he had options: He had just won La Liga with as part of the Galacticos and was wanted both in England and throughout Europe. He came to America, in no small part, because of location, glamour and the celebrity lifestyle, but he did so by choice—not as a final financial kick before retirement.
The hope was that others would follow suit. Beckham was and is a major global brand, and being in LA was something designed to increase that further. Who was to say it couldn't work for other players?
Yet, that route hasn't really been followed. The stars aligned for Beckham: His style, his celebrity wife and his aspirations outside the world of the kicked ball made America a major market; for those only concerned with the football pitch, it's still the minor leagues.
So Beckham's American adventure looks set to be an isolated incident. Until, and this may never happen, soccer is considered a major sport within the country, its league is unlikely to be considered one from without.
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