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spend it like beckham

C’mon, I can’t be the first person to come up with that headline.

David Beckham will be coming to MLS for five years and $250 million, beginning in August when his contract with Real Madrid runs out.

What does this mean for MLS and American soccer? First, put Beckham’s ability in perspective. He is the most famous soccer player in the world today, but he has never been the best soccer player in the world, so it goes without saying he is overrated. This means he’s really underrated, since people like to show off their soccer smarts by saying “Becks, he ain’t much.” Truth is, Beckham is past his prime. “Past his prime” for David Beckham means he doesn’t always play for Real Madrid. Being good enough to play some of the time for Real Madrid is good enough indeed. He has lost some speed, and he’s not big on defense, but his free-kick skills will likely still be with him when he’s 60 … they called the movie Bend It Like Beckham, not Play Defense Like Beckham … and his free-kick skills remain world-class. In other words, he is no longer good enough to play regularly for Real Madrid or for England, but he is still good enough to be among the best players on most teams in the world.

Since MLS teams are not exactly Real Madrid, it is possible if he applies himself that David Beckham will be the best player the league has ever seen. MLS players are no pushovers, and the American soccer landscape is littered with the corpses of big-name European players who came here hoping to waltz their way lazily through their retirement years, only to find out we were better than they expected. I don’t think that will happen in this case. Beckham is well aware of the quality of MLS play. He is also only 31 … old enough to be past his prime, not old enough to be washed up. Christian Gomez was the league MVP last year, and he is a fine talent, still improving. He is not, right now, a better player than David Beckham, right now.

Beckham’s fame will surely bring some curious fans to MLS matches, at least in the short term. His signing also indicates that MLS is now open to big-name signings … they changed some rules to allow each club to break the salary cap for one player. The #1 rumor, now that the last #1 rumor (Becks to L.A.) has come true, is Ronaldo to MLS. Ronaldo won’t be as good a signing, IMO. At his best, he was a better player than Beckham, but he is injury-prone, and just watching him, I get the feeling he’d be more likely to goof his way through his American tour than would Beckham (Beckham is considered by some to be a choker, but I don’t think anyone calls him lazy or out-of-shape). Also, Ronaldo is simply not as well-known in the States as is Beckham.

There are those who think the proper road for MLS success is not to chase after old famous guys like Beckham, but instead to discover little-known emerging talent like Christian Gomez. But I don’t think this is an either/or situation … there’s no reason the league can’t do both.

So yes, I think Beckham to the evil Galaxy of Los Angeles is a good move for MLS. There is a fear that the league will crumble by spending too much on over-the-hill big names … that’s usually the explanation for the failure of the NASL, although it’s more complicated than that. Whether or not Becks is worth $250 million … well, it’s not my money, so I don’t care. I’d rather have a team in San Jose in a league without Beckham than a league with Beckham but no team in the Bay Area, but that’s just me. For the country as a whole, this is a good thing.

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