For long-time soccer icon David Beckham, it is now safe to say no expectations are too high.
After announcing weeks ago that the 2012 Major League Soccer season would be his last one in a Los Angeles Galaxy uniform, Beckham finished his American career with a bang by winning the MLS Cup Saturday night in a style fitting of his up-and-down six-year career with the Galaxy.
After going down a goal in the first half, the Galaxy came storming back in the second half — scoring three goals of its own — on the way to its second-consecutive MLS Cup victory.
It seemed a nearly impossible task to complete, but over the course of his short career in American soccer, Beckham did exactly as he said he would. He not only increased his own brand as an athlete, but also brought much-needed awareness both domestically and abroad for a league in dire need of attention.
While many fans will have differing opinions on the man who has been the face of soccer worldwide for more than a decade, it is hard to deny he has kept the majority of the promises he made when he first arrived to play in the United States in 2007.
When Beckham first arrived in July 2007 — with a following of more reporters and photographers than American soccer had ever seen before — and was officially unveiled across the country, it seemed that MLS had hired not a soccer player, but instead a stuntman to bring up ratings in a young and burgeoning league. After all, Beckham was into his 30s, which is typically when most soccer players begin to think about retirement if they have not already done so.
Not only that, but his arrival was accompanied with ringing endorsements and TV advertisements from every news outlet around the country and beyond as he was proclaimed the “chosen one” to bring MLS and American soccer to the promised land almost overnight.
Other more cynical fans, however, believed the promises too good to be true.
Those worst fears became reality almost immediately, as Beckham quickly aggravated an ankle injury he had sustained entering the season and sat out much of his first year, finishing the season with only five starts to his name.
Then, after a pair of seasons in 2008 and 2009 that failed to live up to his enormous expectations, Beckham suffered another setback in 2010 and spent even more time on the bench with a torn Achilles tendon.
Through the first half of his Galaxy career, it would have been hard to disagree with those who saw Beckham’s U.S. career as one of the biggest flops in sports history. After all, he hadn’t brought the promised championships, very few other big-name European players had followed his lead and attendance at games only increased for the Galaxy home games or those teams that were lucky enough to host Beckham and co.
Overall, it was a far cry from the visions of full stadiums and a blossoming American soccer fanbase that many fans expected to magically materialize upon Beckham’s arrival.
But much like the 2012 MLS Cup, Beckham’s career could best be characterized as a game of two halves.
A closer look at the second half of his six-year career reveals some of the most impressive growth MLS — not to mention American soccer in general — has ever seen.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the facts.
The league that Beckham entered contained only 14 teams. Six years later, America’s premier soccer league boasts a respectable 19 teams.
Better yet, the attendance average in 2006 (one year before Beckham joined the team) was 15,504. This has steadily increased to the point where, in its most recent season, MLS broke its attendance record with an average of more than 18,000 fans per game.
Looking solely at attendance figures, since Beckham has arrived, professional soccer has become the third-most attended professional sports league in the United States, trailing only the MLB and NFL.
Infinitely more important than the attendance figures and the increasing number of teams participating in the league is the presence of the most well-known soccer player in the world putting American soccer on the map. That is one aspect of Beckham’s career American soccer fans can be sure will not be leaving when Beckham does after the dust settles and the championship festivities come to an end in the coming weeks.
While he may be moving on to his next challenge, thanks to David Beckham, American soccer is here to stay.