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.
Mar 30, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT
England has refrained from bidding for World Cups since their relationship with Sepp Blatter has soured, but that could change in the next vote or two.
Mar 30, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT
Barcelona striker Neymar was furious with former Premier League defender Gary Medel, who clattered him hard during the first half of a physical match.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT
The 26-year-old scored for the Mexican team this weekend, but remains frustrated at the club level.
Mar 29, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT
Are Saints about to lose another young star to one of the Premier League’s “big five?” We’ll find out this summer.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:52 PM EDT
Kane will join England’s U-21 squad for this summer’s European Championship.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:18 PM EDT
No fun for 70 minutes, and then the final 20 happened. TFC’s criminally disallowed goal was the only difference in this one.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:48 PM EDT
There’s a real reason, other than “easy schedule,” for England’s improved performances since the World Cup.
Mar 29, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Harry Shipp. Harry Shipp. Harry Shipp.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:58 PM EDT
Sterling isn’t interested in negotiating a new deal until the summer — even if it’s for $270,000/week — and a few reassurances are made.
Mar 29, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Who’s on top of Groups D, F and I at the halfway point?
Mar 29, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Luis Suarez was candid as ever after Gerrard’s charity match, and he opened up the possibility of a Premier League return down the road.
Mar 29, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT
Thierry Henry showed off his sparkling passing skills at Steven Gerrard’s testimonial.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:43 AM EDT
The United States loses one of their goalscorers from Friday’s friendly, but now it’s a youngster’s turn to make a statement.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:14 AM EDT
A whopping turnaround, led by owner Katharina Liebherr, has taken place at St. Mary’s and the financial evidence is there.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
If Adnan Januzaj wants to make a return to the Belgium squad, he must focus on earning playing time at his club first.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:13 AM EDT
An agreement has reportedly been reached between the current American owner and a domestic ownership group.
Mar 29, 2015, 7:34 AM EDT
Gareth Bale knows what people are saying about his recent play at Real Madrid, but he’s not listening.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Catch up on all the action from Week 4 of the MLS season.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:41 PM EDT
A disappointing result for FCD, given Seattle’s lack of Dempsey and Martins, but a great one considering their early red card.
- MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 2-1 Toronto FC 2
- EURO 2016 qualifying roundup: Germany back on track; Portugal beat Serbia, go top 0
- Report: Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner set to sell team to UK group 0
- MLS roundup: Whitecaps, D.C. United win late ones; FCD, Sounders in disappointing draw 1
- MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 0-0 Seattle Sounders 0
- MLS Snapshot: Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Portland Timbers 2