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 30, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
Catch up on all of this weekend’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.
Aug 30, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
The French winger has played for Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and now Bayern Munich. All before his 20th birthday.
Aug 30, 2015, 4:38 PM EDT
Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron are back in the squad, while the relatively unknown Andrew Wooten gets his first call-up.
Aug 30, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
In a managerial battle between the young Garry Monk and the veteran Louis van Gaal, the kid came out on top.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT
After losing three matches all of last season, Juventus has now lost their first two games of the new campaign.
Aug 30, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
The Manchester United manager believed his club got so comfortable on the ball that they lost their focus.
Aug 30, 2015, 1:38 PM EDT
Reports indicate the Saint-Etienne medical staff was initially afraid that the young striker had suffered a heart attack, but it appears the issues are just heat related.
Aug 30, 2015, 12:51 PM EDT
The Red Devils thought they’d picked up points at the Liberty Stadium, but Bafetimbi Gomis had other ideas.
Aug 30, 2015, 11:48 AM EDT
Juventus was in for the Schalke winger, but Wolfsburg now need a replacement for Kevin de Bruyne.
Aug 30, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT
Wolfsburg tried its darndest, but Kevin de Bruyne still decided to leave in favor of a crowded Manchester City squad.
Aug 30, 2015, 10:42 AM EDT
Manchester United has started the season strong, but they take on a team that beat them twice last season.
Aug 30, 2015, 10:22 AM EDT
Graziano Pelle grabbed the opener and Dusan Tadic finished it off with a brace as Southampton flew to its first win of the year.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:29 AM EDT
Could Valdes be forced to stay with Manchester United despite his obvious wish to leave?
Aug 30, 2015, 8:46 AM EDT
Oh the season hasn’t started yet? Jamie Maclaren wasn’t aware.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT
Ronald Koeman must pick up a win fast or risk seeing Southampton in a serious early season hole.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
A single coach had yet to be fired as we approach the start of September, but that changed as Montreal made a change.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:37 PM EDT
The playoffs look a might big ask of RSL, as they sit rock bottom, 10th place, in the Western Conference.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:08 PM EDT
Three losses in a row for Sporting KC, and the team with the highest points-per-game total is slipping in the West.
Aug 29, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT
Man United fell twice at the hand of Swansea City in 2014-15. On Sunday, Louis van Gaal takes his crack at revenge.
Aug 29, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT
Michael Bradley powered TFC to a 2-1 victory in the 401 Derby, and essentially locked up a playoff place in doing so.
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