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.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:27 AM EST
How does the 2012 Goalkeeper of the Year compare to this year’s runner up?
Dec 6, 2013, 12:12 AM EST
The Everton defender backs David Moyes to have long-term success at Manchester United. So much so, that it almost seems like he wishes his old boss had brought him along to Old Trafford…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:10 PM EST
Despite the fact that the 49-year-old manager gives no care to who the United States get drawn against, he does have a preference for another draw…their location.
Dec 5, 2013, 9:27 PM EST
We will also look at the midfields, the forward groups and the goalkeepers
Dec 5, 2013, 9:27 PM EST
From the season opening win in San Jose to the turnaround against LA and their final wins over Portland, we talk about RSL’s 2013.
Dec 5, 2013, 8:54 PM EST
Southampton’s injuries have compounded, as down goes their midfield stalwort.
Dec 5, 2013, 8:20 PM EST
Manager Peter Vermes, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and midfielder Graham Zusi spoke to media from Kansas City on Thursday evening:
Dec 5, 2013, 8:18 PM EST
The loss of the 95-year-old South African legend has reminded many around the sport of memories they had, or what the man did for not just soccer but humanity.
Dec 5, 2013, 7:38 PM EST
Will Lukaku and co. roll into the Emirates and upset the apple cart? We break it down:
Dec 5, 2013, 2:35 PM EST
Picking matches in the Premier League is darn near impossible but somebody has to do it.
Dec 5, 2013, 1:45 PM EST
“Right now the media are getting AVB to do exactly what they want him to do, which is react and get upset,” Martino said.
Dec 5, 2013, 1:04 PM EST
Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee was voted the Volkswagen MLS Most Valuable Player for the 2013 season.
Dec 5, 2013, 12:00 PM EST
EXCLUSIVE — Howard and Bradley agree huge task awaits in Brazil, but progress past the quarterfinal stage is still the aim:
Dec 5, 2013, 11:25 AM EST
Pele’s reluctance to help draw the balls stems from his reputation in Brazil as a ‘pe-fri’, or ‘cold foot’.
Dec 5, 2013, 10:40 AM EST
“I can’t really see women in football. I don’t like to say it but that’s how it is,” Gattuso said.
Dec 5, 2013, 9:05 AM EST
“The impact of one of the studs on the thigh bone in the right leg has caused extensive hemorrhaging,” the Bayern doctor said.
Dec 5, 2013, 7:59 AM EST
In this article we provide everything you need to know about Friday’s World Cup Draw.
Dec 5, 2013, 7:18 AM EST
An alternative look at all the PL action from match day 14:
Dec 5, 2013, 12:42 AM EST
Four weeks ago, Benny Feilhaber wasn’t starting for Kansas City. Now, the former U.S. international’s experiencing a postseason revival.
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