Holding a Mirror Up to David Beckham’s First MLS Season

Last week the LA Galaxy was shut out of a play off berth thanks to similarly situated team, the Chicago Fire. The Fire were also bestowed with a designated player this season, so naturally, the game was penned as the Blanco v. Beckham match-up. In the end though, it was nothing close to that head to head scenario.

Beckham entered near the 60th minute though no one really noticed, besides the screaming girls in belly shirts, screaming his name while madly snapping away with their camera phones. No such fanfare for Blanco, which makes sense since no one would probably claim Blanco to be sexy or celebrity or even on the radar of 15-year old American girls. Blanco did play the entire 90 minutes though, and proved indispensable to the Fire’s late season turn around from bottom of the conference to play off qualifier.

Despite the rumors that the Galaxy and the MLS at large was attempting to fix the last few Galaxy games (presumably to ensure that some more mileage could be gotten out of their cash cow), in the end, the rumors were meritless (or the league was simply incapable of orchestrating successful match fixing). On Sunday, the American public bid farewell to the inaugural season of what has become the Beckham rollercoaster.

Leading up to those final games, it was questionable whether or not Beckham would even play. Questions swirled surrounding his fitness, or lack thereof, as well as the fact that a Beckham-less Galaxy had won five straight games. No one disputes Beckham’s talent surpasses the bulk of the players in the MLS but it seemed like, for the competition that the Galaxy were playing, a Beckham-less starting 11 made a little more sense. And then there was that pesky injury, aggravated no doubt by those 11,000 mile flights back and forth from the UK to LA.

So three days before the Galaxy met the Fire, when LA played the Red Bulls at home, in a game requiring either a draw or a win to see them through to the next level, when Beckham came on in the 60th minute, the response was muted. At home or away, it seems like America is over David Beckham, at least in the primary realm that Beckham was expected to dominate.

There are certainly a good few months of non-stop, non-soccer promotion ahead for Golden Balls. Towards this end, rumor has it that Beckham is going to embark on a Motorola ad campaign across the nation at local universities, pushing wireless devices to co-eds. There is already hype surrounding his arrival on these campuses: one contest, which would allow the winner to get closer to Beckham in some way, required contest entrants to design a new ad with Beckham’s face superimposed, while clutching a mobile phone.

Nothing is wrong with pushing products or using celebrity status to win over fans to convert them to the MLS. It’s just doubtful that all this advertising really does any good for soccer. Most Americans know that David Beckham is a soccer player but that seems to come as an afterthought to his model-esq fashion status, his celebrity wife, and his spokesman status for whatever he’s advertising. Padding the pockets of major corporations, certainly, but this is coming nowhere near the soccer “ambassador” that the MLS touted Beckham to be.

Case in point: The Galaxy players are frequently out in the community, promoting soccer to kids and lower income populations around the LA area, but when Beckham was out of commission be/c of that pesky injury, he wasn’t seen at any of these functions. There were sightings, however, of him in downtown Hollywood, “promoting” soccer at places that frankly have no use for it. Sure he’s entitled to have a good time but the regular season is somewhat like the regular work day and drinking lunches, while enjoyable, are not usually favored. Especially when your company is on the breach of bankruptcy, so to speak.

Certainly the MLS have gotten some of their financial return back from the investment they made in brand Beckham, as bums were in seats when the Galaxy rolled through America, and even if they weren’t actually in attendance, the tickets were already bought and sold.

Beckham’s injury certainly didn’t help him this season, but its more than just his physical injury that disabled the MLS’s hopeful aspirations for how Beckham could revolutionize this league. While it all cannot be done in one season, there are a few major obstacles that seem to have appeared straight away. One that comes to mind immediately is that he chose LA to play for. California is possibly the best state to play and be a soccer fan in America and it did not really need a player of Beckham’s caliber to promote soccer in LA or California generally. Kansas City comes to mind, certainly not glamorous, but middle America could use a little more help in making the sport more popular.

Beckham’s residence within LA proper makes him less accessible to the rest of America. His friendships with Hollywood celebrities and scientologists already polarized him to an extent, before he even arrived. Adding to this, it appears that he’s off to tour with his wife on the Spice Girl’s reunion tour. None of these things really make the meat and potatoes Americans want more of Beckham and its unlikely that it makes them want to watch or play soccer. Beckham’s image as an ambassador is thus sequestered to a small window of the American public: celebrity watchers and those already interested in soccer. Both camps would probably say they’re over him at this point. Overexposure anyone?

Beckham’s actual impact on the Galaxy’s season, as minimal as it was, possibly did more harm than good to the Galaxy. Maybe no one could save that sinking ship, let alone one player. Maybe his presence divided and distracted the team, and without them, they were left in peace. Or maybe it was because when he was on the pitch, outside of a couple free kicks, there was a sour feel to the game upon his entry. That could also be due to the fact that the Galaxy was usually losing by the time Beckham came on.
Or it could be that Beckham doesn’t seem to be particularly enjoying MLS play. He looked generally disinterested during last Sunday’s game prompting some to speculate that Beckham probably wishes he had stayed in Europe a wee bit longer.

Whether that is true or not at this point means nothing, because his attitude about American soccer is written all over his face during these games. This cannot be good publicity for what the MLS had intended, nor does it help to encourage those other rumored future designated players of the Ronaldo (“the fat one”) and Zidane (puzzling rumor, honestly) persuasion. Overall, though, his attitude on and off the pitch is defeating the primary reason Beckham was supposedly brought over for: to play (the injury, right) but moreover to promote and spread the soccer love.

But he was voted askmen.com’s manliest man…eating your pride probably gets big points in that competition.

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