May 16, 2013, 10:55 AM EDT
Pele and David Beckham splashed themselves across a willing U.S. Soccer scene at wildly different times in the game’s development here.
And yet their legacies look quite similar, both measurably significant in soccer’s growth and larger acceptance here. Both men cultivated greater awareness for the country’s top professional league, although in very different ways, moving the needle forward in very different places along the cultural awareness continuum.
Is it lame to call this one a draw?
Pele was here as the pro game was barely out of infancy, still more “novelty” than “national footprint” on the domestic sports map.
Beckham arrived with the game at a far higher level of awareness and cultural acceptance, but when it had definitely arrived at a certain plateau. He pushed it past a sticking point.
To use an American football analogy, Pele moved the ball off the goal line, gaining a couple of important first downs. Beckham, who retired from soccer on Thursday at age 38, helped move the ball past the 50-yard line, into scoring position in the opponent’s end.
I think we can all agree that all forward movement is important. Pele’s contribution was to stamp legitimacy on a league that was still full of carnival tricks, still overly dependent on gimmicks to draw the crowds. And he put far more eyes on the North American Soccer League, which was not yet into its second decade when he arrived in 1975.
Major League Soccer was barely into its second decade when the Beckham tsunami landed with force on Major League Soccer shores. His goal in the bigger picture was always about increasing TV rights, creating buzz across a greater spectrum and ginning up general awareness.
It all started on the cold January day in 2007 when news that soccer’s illustrious global icon would be joining MLS, which was easily the most significant league announcement since Alan Rothenberg and other architects first revealed details ahead of the 1996 launch.
Going forward, sellouts were the norm in his first two or three seasons, so his impact at the gate was significant. (And gate receipts in MLS make up a far, far greater portion of revenue than in other U.S. sports, so that was a boon.) The real victory was in general market awareness (i.e., outside the soccer niche audience) and in enhanced TV contracts.
Long story short, Brand Beckham was always a circus – but don’t we all like to watch the circus? He did make more Americans watch MLS.
By the way, there were always better players, in both cases. Still, both men helped to validate their competitive value with championships in their final years, adding muscle to the argument that they were more than a brand and a pretty face on all this. Pele helped guide the Cosmos to the 1977 NASL championship in his third and final season with the club. Beckham won MLS Cup titles in 2011 and 2012, his final pair of LA Galaxy seasons.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:49 AM EDT
Set piece goals are the name of a pair of early games, as four Premier League matches dot the weekend landscape. Live stream link inside.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:31 AM EDT
Bafetimbi Gomis is out for Swansea City, putting more focus on Ki Sung-yeung and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:24 AM EDT
Crystal Palace has been humming, with Yannick Bolasie coming off a hat trick for the Eagles.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
Can high-flying Saints keep the top four hopes alive with a win at the Brit? Watch live online.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:17 AM EDT
Can the Toffees go five games unbeaten? Watch them take on the Clarets live online, here.
Apr 18, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT
“The Special One” is fueling the fire ahead of Saturday’s massive clash vs. United.
Apr 18, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
Where and how to watch every single PL game live online or via the app during Week 33.
Apr 17, 2015, 11:40 PM EDT
Storylines ahead of FA Cup semifinal clashes.
Apr 17, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT
Jose Mourinho provided his backing for fellow PL manager Manuel Pellegrini, who could be terminated as Manchester City’s manager at the year’s conclusion.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:13 PM EDT
Final: New York Red Bulls 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes
Apr 17, 2015, 8:01 PM EDT
Beckenbauer on Bayern’s year-end winning aspirations: “They are far away, far, far, far away to win the Champions League.”
Apr 17, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
Hart: “[Pellegrini] has got principles that we work to, that we train to and, like I say, we’ve let him down…”
Apr 17, 2015, 5:38 PM EDT
PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic had his four-game ban reduced today.
Apr 17, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT
Preview of Everton-Burnley tomorrow morning: Can the Toffees extend their solid form?
Apr 17, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT
Steven Gerrard will hope to exit Anfield with one last crown, an FA Cup trophy, and Aston Villa stands in the way.
Apr 17, 2015, 3:14 PM EDT
Chelsea and United do battle at the Bridge on Saturday. Watch it live on NBC and online at 12:30 p.m .ET.
Apr 17, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
The US left-back appears to have returned to the national team picture after a prolonged hiatus, and he’s brought with him a special flair.
Apr 17, 2015, 2:10 PM EDT
How will the Blues and Red Devils line up on Saturday? Here’s a quick gander…
Apr 17, 2015, 12:20 PM EDT
As two giants of English soccer collide on Saturday, here’s a trip down memory lane at some scintillating past encounters.
Apr 17, 2015, 11:35 AM EDT
Where and how to watch every single PL game live during Week 33.
- LIVE – Premier League, at the half: All four games 1-0; Foxes lead, Burnley sees red 0
- Watch Live: Everton vs. Burnley (Lineups and Live Stream) 0
- WATCH: Premier League live online via NBC Sports Live Extra – Week 33 0
- Brek Shea’s USMNT return includes a personal, artistic touch 3
- Wayne Rooney may play in midfield: How will Chelsea, Manchester United line up? 0
- WATCH: NBC Sports’ Premier League TV schedule – Week 33 0