The Beckham Show Endeth, Now What?With David Beckham’s career slowly winding down, MLS seems unprepared for its next move
by Abram Chamberlain | Monday, July 16, 2012
When the David Beckham show first came to Major League Soccer, it was as if the skies opened from the heavens and released a savior upon Los Angeles and Don Garber. Both national and international media coverage followed this most epic event. Whether or not people wanted to believe it, this signing did in fact assist in “saving” MLS. It was not the only event to rescue MLS from implosion, but it definitely served an immense purpose. For that, fans of MLS should show a smidgen of respect for the man, the myth, the legend: Mr. David Beckham.
However, that time has passed. The curtain is starting to close, but MLS does not seem prepared for the next act. And while I do respect what David Beckham did for MLS and American soccer – we now realize that his celebrity, even more so than his play – was what caused the ruckus. Nowadays, his celebrity far outweighs his play and perhaps foreshadows just how unprepared MLS is for its next step without its golden
Beckham is a star. He is the star. There is no denying that. If any one player in MLS is going to have MLS’s rules not apply to him, it is Mr. Beckham. For years he has been allowed to get in the faces of referees. He has been permitted to go in hard on red-worthy tackles and be shown a yellow card, if that. So when he kicked a ball (twice), on national television, at a referee and a player during an “injury” we all knew MLS had to act. They did by awarding him a paltry single game suspension. This is a similar, though not the same, incident to what happened to Brek Shea earlier this season. But Brek Shea is not David Beckham. He is a role player in Mr. Beckham’s show while it tours North America.
But the people who understand the plot were up in arms over the apparent lack of symmetry in the amount of suspension levied at Beckham as compared to Shea. Nevertheless, no one really expects MLS to award a three game suspension to Beckham. Even now, well past his prime, to the casual sports fan he is the most recognizable face in MLS. More famous than Landon Donovan, more celebrated than Thierry Henry, more loved than Rafa Marquez and more of a known (or at least pseudo known) player than any other in the league. He is the A-list and every other MLS star is B-list. The rest of the players in the league are extras or D-list at best to the general public. They are Taylor Kitsch to his Johnny Depp.
When yesterday he was awarded the ESPY Award for Best MLS Player, it was not a shock. This, after all, is the American sports worlds’ People’s Choice Awards not the Academy Awards. Film critics know the People’s Choice Awards are a joke. MLS fans know that last season was possibly the best season David Beckham ever had in MLS, his team won MLS Cup and he led the way of punch lines thrown at the White House. Of course, followers of MLS also realized that Dwayne De Rosario had a season for the ages, Brad Davis was absolutely incredible and that Landon Donovan was named the LA Galaxy’s season MVP. These are the stars that we watch and love, but they are Jean Dujardin to his Brad Pitt. The general public, who only loosely follow soccer during big events and probably never follow MLS, have the opportunity to vote on an MLS award and they of course go for the name they know: David Beckham.
The same scenario played out for the MLS All-Star team. While All-Star games at their core are nothing but celebrations of celebrity, and Beckham is the biggest MLS celebrity of them all, this vote was undeserved. Granted, his play has picked up immensely since the beginning of the season, but by the time votes were tallied and he had taken an insurmountable lead, he was in the midst of one of his worst seasons ever.
What hurts the overall league is that the ESPY Awards, the suspension incident and being named an All-Star all came right around the time that Beckham was snubbed for the Great Britain Olympic squad. Supporters of the EPL, or various other foreign leagues and teams, probably do not know Beckham’s stats. They probably don’t realize that a good number of players selected to the Honduran team now play in MLS. What they do know is that Golden Balls was not named to the Britain squad, but MLS is still heaping awards on an over-aged, former great who didn’t even make the Olympics for a country that probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to host the Olympics without him.
MLS has grown past the absolute and undying reliance on David Beckham’s worldwide celebrity. There is still a level of respect that he should get; however, the bending over backwards of the league to protect their most valuable asset is upsetting. The ultimate problem is that David Beckham was brought in by MLS to grow MLS, but conversely he was brought by Team Beckham in order to grow the Beckham brand even while his career was winding down on the field. Despite that, the Beckham brand has certainly grown since transplanting itself in Hollywood. He has appeared on Ellen, featured in Burger King commercials and his fetching mug is plastered in Times Square. Meanwhile, MLS is still taking a backseat to big foreign teams they invite to play in their own All-Star games.
Beckham was bigger than MLS when he entered the league. And with the favoritism he is being shown he has overshadowed the league even in the last season or so of his career – look I’ve even written 1000 words on the guy, so that irony is not lost on me.
It’s time for MLS however to realize that good things don’t last forever. If salaries aren’t seriously raised to attract good players in their prime, or to keep North Americans who may grow to be stars (i.e. Stuart Holden, Tim Ream, Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey, et al) the David Beckham experiment was for naught.
I appreciate everything done by Beckham to rescue the league from slowly drowning in the ocean of American sports obscurity; but right now it’s time for MLS to figure out how it’s going to swim without its gilded English life preserver. The Beckham Show curtain call is coming to an end, and MLS needs to be ready for what it’ll do for an encore.