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.
Aug 23, 2014, 2:52 AM EDT
April’s 3-0 loss at Goodison was the low point of Arsenal’s 2013-14 season.
Aug 23, 2014, 1:09 AM EDT
The Blues are heavy favorites to stay perfect through two rounds.
Aug 23, 2014, 12:41 AM EDT
With one game per week, Chelsea’s players have a chance to settle into their roles.
Aug 23, 2014, 12:05 AM EDT
Two goals while playing with 10 send Dallas joint-top of the Western Conference.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:51 PM EDT
The league’s second round kicks off at Villa Park and ends with the main event on Merseyside.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:12 PM EDT
List of things Cristiano Ronaldo can’t do: Throw a proper punch.
Aug 22, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Dallas is undefeated since May, while RSL has a chance to temporarily move clear atop the Western Conference.
Aug 22, 2014, 7:17 PM EDT
Dallas versus Real Salt Lake, Sporting hosting D.C. see the conferences’ best go head-to-head.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT
Early Mandzukic goal gives Atlético its fifth trophy under Simeone.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
Toffees and Gunners clash, Liverpool head to Man City, London derby time and much more.
Aug 22, 2014, 4:59 PM EDT
Goal, assist from Dutch star helped deliver Bayern three points to open the Bundesliga season.
Aug 22, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
Can Villa continue their good start to the season? Watch live, Saturday 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN.
Aug 22, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Birmingham City, 1860 Munich, Millwall, Nurnberg… it seems Brek Shea is a man in demand when it comes to his loan from Stoke City.
Aug 22, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
The Bavarians added Robert Lewandowski, and look poised to lead again. Who are the favorites to emerge in the race for second?
Aug 22, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT
Matchweek 2 brings a few killer games including Everton v. Arsenal on Saturday and Manchester City v. Liverpool on Monday.
Aug 22, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
From the early days in Italy, to the craziness of Man City and then back to AC Milan, here’s the timeline of Balotelli’s life so far.
Aug 22, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT
The 19-year-old American attacker’s only senior appearance for Bayern was a Champions League sub. That could change today.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT
Probably not, but with Sevilla and Barcelona strengthening while Atletico deals with roster tumult, look for some changes near the top.
Aug 22, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT
PSV Eindhoven called the police, upping the ante on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Aug 22, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Where and how to watch every single PL game in Week 2, right here.
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