May 16, 2013, 10:55 AM EST
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.
Jan 29, 2015, 5:36 PM EST
Agudelo is back in MLS, where he probably should have been all along.
Jan 29, 2015, 5:12 PM EST
The future boss at Anfield? Sturridge is quite sure of it.
Jan 29, 2015, 3:18 PM EST
Putin and Russia have already had to cut costs for the 2018 World Cup.
Jan 29, 2015, 2:43 PM EST
Arsenal’s main man is touch and go for this weekend’s game against Aston Villa.
Jan 29, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Liverpool’s leading striker could return to action this Saturday after five months out.
Jan 29, 2015, 1:02 PM EST
With players out and title dreams on the line, how will Chelsea and City line up on Saturday?
Jan 29, 2015, 12:18 PM EST
Costa set to protest FA charges to avoid three-game ban.
Jan 29, 2015, 11:43 AM EST
Watch Klinsmann’s insane piece of skill from the friendly vs. Chile on Wednesday. My word.
Jan 29, 2015, 11:08 AM EST
Guinea won the lottery and are through to the last eight. Here’s the quarterfinal field for AFCON.
Jan 29, 2015, 9:45 AM EST
Former D.C. United, RSL and Union player heading back home?
Jan 29, 2015, 9:06 AM EST
With a few days left in the window, here’s the latest gossip.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
Could Yaya link up with his old boss at the San Siro?
Jan 28, 2015, 11:10 PM EST
So what went down on Wednesday, as the transfer window took another step toward slamming shut?
Jan 28, 2015, 10:20 PM EST
Set up for a free kick outside the 18, Eriksen not only sent an arrow whizzing over the goal, but he managed to spin it into the far upper 90.
Jan 28, 2015, 9:58 PM EST
The La Liga giant has woked out a sponsorship deal with United Arab Emirates-based International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).
Jan 28, 2015, 9:17 PM EST
Jurgen Klinsmann remained upbeat, while Jozy Altidore was obviously disappointed.
Jan 28, 2015, 8:42 PM EST
Breaking down the good, the bad and the ugly from Wednesday’s 3-2 loss in Chile.
Jan 28, 2015, 8:15 PM EST
Jurgen Klinsmann said he played the 3-CB system because he had DeAndre Yedlin available. So did it work?
Jan 28, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Another match fell apart in a haze of substitutions and mistakes as the United States blew a 2-1 lead in Rancagua on Wednesday night.
Jan 28, 2015, 7:03 PM EST
Maybe Sunderland just doesn’t know how to use its forwards.
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