Star prepares for American soccer debut
By Michael Lewis
David Beckham is poised to make his American soccer debut for the Los Angeles Galaxy against English soccer power Chelsea in Carson, California Saturday night (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).
An ankle injury could limit the English soccer star's availability to but a handful of minutes toward the end of the exhibition match at The Home Depot Center. His appearance, however, will be at the very least symbolic that he is ready to help the Galaxy and help soccer grow in this country.
"For me the most important thing is my family," he said during an elaborate welcoming ceremony in Carson last week.
"The second most is foot . . . soccer" he said, correcting himself to use the U.S. name for his sport. "I'll get used to that at some point."
Beckham's image was introduced to Americans in the 2002 movie, Bend It Like Beckham, its title referring to his marvelous and dangerous free kicks that turn into goals.
"This is one of the biggest challenges I've ever taken on in my career," Beckham said. "To move to a different country, the other side of the world is something that I'm looking forward to."
The closest thing to British royalty, the 32-year-old Beckham is married to the former Victoria Adams, who might be better known to the public at large as Posh Spice from the English pop group, The Spice Girls. Their move to America has excited the paparazzi and American soccer officials hope that will give the game and Major League Soccer some much needed publicity and recognition outside of its own sphere of influence.
"I think that potentially in the states, soccer could be as big as it is everywhere else around the world," Beckham said. "I'm very proud to be part of that, and I'm going to be part of that the next five years and maybe a few more years later."
There are some media outlets that have reported Beckham is here to save soccer in the United States.
That's not entirely accurate. Soccer is here to stay.
"He hasn't come to save the game," said Clive Toye, the man who signed Pelé to a contract with the New York Cosmos in 1975. "It is the biggest bunch of horse manure I've heard in some time."
The game is firmly entrenched, especially at the youth level with more than three million children participating.
The U.S. men's team has qualified for the past five World Cups. The women's team has won two world championshipsplus two Olympic gold-medalsand will aim for a third one at the Women's World Cup in China this September.
MLS is in its 12th year and the Women's United Soccer Association, which suspended operations in 2003, is set to be revived next year.
Perhaps it is better to say that Beckham could put the game in another orbit or at least enhance the sport among the masses.
Some 32 years ago Pelé came to these shores and gave the game a boost that we have felt to this day.
"The game could have failed and gone away," Toye said. "Beckham is coming to a different land. Even a presidential order or a dictator can't stop it."
Toye said Beckham's presence was "an impact into the upper stratosphere of show business and media and into areas where soccer hasn't been. The next time there's the Oscars, I'm sure he'll be walking down the red carpet with the Mrs."
"It is a staggering difference that Beckham is getting hyped in fashion (publications). I hope they're not going to be disappointed (with him as a player). The game is here, Beckham or not."
And it all starts Saturday.