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International Soccer
David Beckham, more PR than superstar

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Major League Soccer made the biggest transaction in its 11-year history this past Thursday when the Los Angeles Galaxy signed Real Madrid midfielder David Beckham to a five-year contract that could potentially pay the British icon a whopping $250 million.

The move was met with equal parts shock and awe, and sent ripples throughout the soccer universe, something Major League Soccer has never accomplished before. After all, the MLS has always been a league made up of college kids and Latin American players, never world-renowned European talent.

The belief in many MLS circles, including league commissioner Don Garber, is that Beckham's presence serves to legitimize the league as something more than the equivalent of the Double-A Southern League in baseball.

Said Garber: "David Beckham is a global sports icon who will transcend the sport of soccer in America. His decision to continue his storied career in Major League Soccer is testament to the fact that America is rapidly becoming a true 'Soccer Nation' with Major League Soccer at the core."

Garber's vision of America as a true 'Soccer Nation' lasted all of 24 hours.

While Beckham's mug was plastered all over newspapers and television screens across the country on Friday, most of the talk surrounded the incredible sum of cash that Beckham would receive for his role as defibrillator of the MLS.

David Beckham
David Beckham will be the best player on the field in any MLS contest he takes part in.

Then, just one day later, that "other" football league's playoffs cast aside Major League Soccer and its new savior, and returned it to its role as a niche sport once again.

The MLS went to great lengths in order to sign Beckham, including a rule change that allows each team one roster spot for a player whose salary will not count against the nearly $2 million salary cap.

The reason?

Beckham is the most recognizable soccer player on the planet, one of the few footballers in the world with crossover appeal. The attention that he garners, however, is not for his playing ability on the pitch, but for his lifestyle off of it.

A number of factors go into making the empire that is David Beckham. First and foremost is his 1999 marriage to Victoria Adams, a.k.a. pop superstar Posh Spice.

By tying the knot with this British bombshell, Beckham instantly became a tabloid regular, whose shopping trips and where he vacationed in the offseason became more important than how many goals he scored.

It also helps that Beckham has been a member of two of the world's most popular teams in the past 20 years, Manchester United and Real Madrid. Both clubs have endorsement deals that dwarf those of the New York Yankees and any other successful American sports franchise. Beckham jerseys are worn by children from South Africa to South Korea.

Despite the fact that he has hardly been the best player on his own team, he has always been the most popular. Players like Gary Neville, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs served as the foundation for the Manchester United house, while Beckham was the shiny sports car parked in the driveway, certainly not a necessity, but nice to look at.

He is a one-dimensional player who cannot even crack his current club's starting lineup. While he has few peers when it comes to free kicks, he has a tendency to disappear for long stretches of time during games, and is certainly not an ideal two-way midfielder.

Beckham will be the best player on the field in any MLS contest he takes part in. But, in comparison to the English, Spanish and other top leagues in Europe, it is more a reflection of the talent level in the MLS than Beckham's skill level.

So what exactly is the MLS getting in David Beckham?

They are getting a player who will sell a large number of jerseys and generate a spike in ticket sales. Just hours after news of Beckham's signing with the LA Galaxy, the club's season ticket requests jumped by over 1,000.

Even the expansion Toronto FC club reported large increases in ticket sales immediately after the news from fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the latest British invasion.

Beckham went to great lengths to let everyone know that his decision to come to the MLS was not financially motivated, but was about the challenge of spreading soccer to a larger audience in the United States.

Just exactly how Beckham plans to do this will be the interesting part.

If he thinks that a few gravity-defying free kicks will spark a generation to trade in their high-tops for a pair of soccer boots, he is in for a rude awakening.

Soccer will always have a hardcore fan base in the United States, but at the end of the day, it is still the same game. The average American sports fan just doesn't get it, there is not enough scoring and not enough contact to keep them interested.

Ticket sales will jump, merchandise will be purchased at an increased rate, giving the illusion that soccer is being embraced in the United States.

Don't be fooled.

David Beckham is a curiosity, which will attract a few more people to watch. The novelty will wear off in a year or two, and in the end, soccer will be left in pretty much the same place that Beckham found it, a niche sport that enjoyed a brief spike in interest for a few years.

Beckham is more PR than superstar, but don't look for the MLS to complain.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Pat Martin at pmartin@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com

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