Beckham biggest name in MLS
David Beckham of the L.A. Galaxy is still a top draw in Major League Soccer, and several Sounders FC players know him well.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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His arrival on American soil was seen as a coup for the U.S. soccer scene. His high-profile personal life, vast résumé of individual and team accomplishments and his signature devastating, bending free kick took this country by storm two years ago.
Today, David Beckham is still a big-name draw for Major League Soccer. He's the league's prized possession, its highest-paid player at more than $6 million a year, and his name alone, when linked to MLS, gives the league worldwide recognition.
Beckham, 34, has given MLS at least that, if not some credibility. The kinds of things MLS could use as it keeps trying to garner national interest. Sounders FC experiences the Beckham phenomenon tonight when it takes on the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.
Never mind the English megastar has played in only three Galaxy regular-season games since coming back to the U.S. from a six-month loan to AC Milan. The prevailing belief in the league is that Beckham can change a game. And an image.
"Obviously he's front and center for our league. He's the ideal person to sort of be an ambassador for our league because he sort of transcends the lines in terms of sports fans, soccer fans, regular people," said Sounders FC midfielder Peter Vagenas, who played with Beckham in Los Angeles the past two seasons before Vagenas came to Seattle. "I think he's done a great job with all the pressure that he has to deal with. Having spent time with him, it's unbelievable the burden that he carries."
Vagenas had a little more to say about his ex-teammate, whose call to Vagenas won't be returned until after the match: "I'm looking forward to kicking his ass."
Beckham has attracted a new base of fans to not only the Galaxy, but to soccer in this country. Guys who have watched football and baseball and basketball all their lives suddenly took an interest in the sport because Beckham is a household name in Europe, one of its most celebrated athletes for what he does both on and off the field. The celebrity wife, Victoria aka Posh Spice. The global brand that he has become. The causes he promotes.
"They worked very hard as a brand on the marketing side of stuff," Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller said of the Beckhams. "You combine that with playing for teams like Manchester United and Real Madrid, that obviously helps. But there was a lot of work that went into becoming what he's become off the field."
All of this, and yet Beckham wants out. He's spoken openly about returning to Europe to play after this season with the Galaxy. He didn't report to Los Angeles in time for the start of the MLS season while holding out hope that AC Milan would negotiate a deal with the Galaxy to get him out of his MLS contract.
MLS wasn't about to lose its brightest star, even if he has yet to lead L.A. to the postseason. So it was back to the U.S. for Becks.
League commissioner Don Garber said European stars like Beckham and Sounders FC's Freddie Ljungberg are attracted to the U.S. because they have the chance to build the sport in this country.
"Both Freddie and David really enjoy living in the States and are committed to help grow MLS," Garber said.
Ljungberg played against Beckham in the English Premier League for years. He, like Beckham, decided it was a financially sound and good career move to come to MLS, and was asked if Beckham paved the way for European stars to give MLS a shot.
"I don't think we saw it as him opening the door," Ljungberg said. "It was more that the American league showed that they wanted good players to come to America. That was the signal that MLS sent to Europe."
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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