On January 11, 2007, the MLS received shocking news. International soccer star David Beckham would be joining the Los Angeles Galaxy after he had finished his current campaign with Real Madrid.
After winning the La Liga title in his last season at Real Madrid, the "washed up" veteran made his way on the plane to make his flight to America with much hype.
What fell into Beckham's lap was a team that should have been good, but was flat out terrible. Not much has changed since then.
In 1975, Pele, past his prime, but still an amazing player, made his way to the United States to play for the now defunct North American Soccer League, a similar move to that of David Beckham.
Pele was the star of the New York Cosmos. German legend Franz Beckenbauer also joined Pele, along with Italian great Giorgio Chinaglia, who joined Pele and Beckenbauer despite still being in his prime.
Giorgio Chinaglia, despite his loud mouth antics and disrespect for Pele while playing on the Cosmos has brought up a good point. He has stated that to get anywhere, the league needs about twenty-five more David Beckhams.
While I prefer to watch the English Premier League, I am also a fan of the MLS product, and am outraged when I hear foreigners refer to the MLS as the "Mickey Mouse League."
But then again, the MLS players don't seem to have a higher opinion of their league. The young players that started in MLS, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, DeMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard, Maurice Edu, and others, have all left to fulfill their full potential in Europe. So the first thing we need to make our league legitimate is some actual promising American talent willing to stay in America.
Back to Chinaglia's comment; He is right that we do need more high profile international names. Let's face it; European players would most likely dominate upon their arrival to MLS. I never had a high opinion of Juan Pablo Angel until i saw him playing for the Red Bulls after his switch from English side Aston Villa. People have lost interest in Beckham because he is team is barely cutting it, and he's not a scorer. I don't expect to see Becks score every time I turn a Galaxy game on.
Many top-tier players tend to switch to lower league teams once they are deemed "over the hill." Why not make the move to MLS, and try to make a difference in the only country in the world that holds NASCAR and the NHL in higher priority than soccer?
MLS needs a player like Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler. He most recently played for Cardiff Cityin the Football League Championship. He is only 33 years old; therefore he would have many years of success in MLS, with fewer games to play than in the Premier League or the Championship. He is also a scorer, which Beckham, despite five goals this year, is not.
Another candidate is Andriy Shevchenko. He has no role on the Chelsea FC squad owing to the fact that Didier Drogba would rather play as a lone striker, or with Salomon Kalou and Nicolas Anelka. He is married to an American model, and has hinted a move to the MLS in the near future.
Current AC Milan star, Ronaldo suffered a ruptured kneecap ligament in early 2008. His best days are certainly over, and this injury may do more to see to that. He hinted a move to MLS even before Beckham had shown interest, and maybe now may be the time for Ronaldo. He said that he will play again after his injury, but how long will he last with Milan.
The reason David Beckham got American audiences to tune in, for the time being, is because there was so much hype around him, as there was when Pele arrived. The same hype, but to a somewhat lesser extent, should have been given to Angel and Claudio Reyna when they decided to come to the United States. If Americans see it over and over again on ESPN, I guarantee, they will tune in. They only reason i knew Angel was in the MLS is because it scrolled, in obscurity, on the ESPN bottom line.
Superliga is a great idea for the MLS. It is the American version of the Champions League. However, I feel that Superliga should be extended to include not only teams from the U.S. and Mexico (and Canada if you count Toronto FC), but also teams from Argentina, Honduras, Brazil, and other countries in the Americas too. Americans love to see their teams win. If word got out that the Galaxy, led by Beckham and Landon Donovan, were playing in the Superliga final against Boca Juniors from Argentina, Americans would tune in to see how an American team fares against a team from Argentina.
Finally, ESPN may think that they are doing MLS a favor by putting giving them their Primetime Thursday slot on ESPN 2, but it is very disheartening to turn it to ESPN on Thursdays and see soccer, and then turn it to the main ESPN and see billiards.
I believe higher quality players, better media coverage, and a broader Superliga can bring the MLS into the eyes of the American public who haven't fallen or Beckhamania. Only time will tell if the MLS will rise in popularity, or if it will go down the same road as the North American Soccer League.