Ten years ago today, David Beckham announced that he was leaving Real Madrid to join the Los Angeles Galaxy and Major League Soccer. The league was forever changed, and this move set the league on its current path to success.
Before Beckham, the league was slowly finding its footing. Recovering from losing two teams ahead of the 2002 season, MLS had just added Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA for the 2005 season. The Houston Dynamo started in 2006 when San Jose had to move there. Toronto FC were joining for the 2007 season, and the excitement was building north of the border.
However, it was the announcement that David Beckham was coming that launched MLS 2.0. The league would not be where it is today if things had happened differently. Beckham did not save the league or the sport in the U.S., but he kick started its growth in a way no one else could have.
I was at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention when the word broke. No one seemed to know what it would do for the league or the sport in this country. There was excitement, but also a lot of skepticism. Sometimes it’s the people inside American soccer that are the most skeptical of it being successful.
Beckham’s arrival in MLS has often been compared to Pele’s decision to join the New York Cosmos of the NASL in 1975. Beckham had a far greater impact than Pele did. Pele boosted a struggling league for a short period of time, but the NASL was gone ten years after he arrived. MLS is continuing to grow ten years after Beckham’s arrival.
I will always remember coaching a middle school team the year Beckham signed. Only one kid on the team had ever played soccer before, most of the kids were basketball or football players who just wanted to try something different. One of the kids was a great athlete, but just had little interest in soccer. When he started seeing Beckham and MLS discussed on SportsCenter, he started to take it seriously. He would ask me at practice how much Beckham would help the Galaxy, and he became one of the most engaged kids in the team.
At a time when MLS needed a shot in the arm, David Beckham provided it. We can discuss what Beckham did on the field another day, but his effect on the business of MLS cannot be denied. He helped the league grow up. Ten years on, we’re starting to see the long term effects of the Beckham acquisition.