Beckham factor puts MLS play-offs amongst elite

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When David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy in 2007, questions were raised over his motivations for the move.

The glitz and glamour of living in Los Angeles, the financial incentives that came with a move to Major League Soccer and the opportunity to expand 'Brand Beckham' were all cited as reasons for the switch.

Beckham himself claimed that the opportunity to take football, or soccer, to a country with the size and potential of America was one he could not refuse.

Whilst the former England captain quickly integrated his family into American life and the move has had substantial financial benefits, it would be difficult to argue that Beckham hasn't been true to his word in taking the game to the next level in the States during his time in the country, which could come to an end at the end of the season.

The real benefit of Beckham's move from Real Madrid to the Galaxy almost five years ago will be seen in years to come, when the MLS hope young children graduate into professional players after choosing Soccer over the other major sports in America, notably American Football, Baseball and Basketball, because of the former Manchester United midfielder's move.

In the short-term, his influence remains as strong as ever, and with players like Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez following in his footsteps, the league is beginning to flourish.

Whilst a hardcore of fans have always been interested in the game, grown by the 1994 World Cup and emergence of the national team as a genuine threat to major teams on the international stage, this season's MLS has captured the imagination of the public in both the USA and across the globe.

The play-off system has helped this massively, and the pairing of Beckham's Galaxy against Henry's New York Red Bulls in the conference semi-final stage has become major news nationally despite the NFL being in full-swing.

A major players strike in the NBA has also helped, with disillusioned fans looking to gain their sporting fix elsewhere. The MLB season has just finished, and whilst the NHL is back-in-action, soccer is quickly catching Ice Hockey in popularity.

Indeed, ESPN had no problem with the first leg, which the Galaxy won 1-0, going head-to-head with the New York Giants in a TV battle, and whilst there was little doubt that the American version remains the most popular type of football, it's one of the first times the two could be put alongside each other.

"Red Bulls vs. Galaxy is the only MLS match which could attract enough national television to place the league in sports conversations along with NFL games," noted Zac Wassink on Yahoo!

More importantly for soccer, perhaps, is the second-leg, which takes place at the Home Depot Centre in LA on Thursday night with minimal competition in the American sporting world. Whilst time zones make it an 11pm kick-off in New York, hope remains high that it will be one of the biggest audiences in the domestic games history.

“I think a lot of people probably wanted this game, and they’ll be happy. The league will be happy, and TV will be happy. They’ve got some good players," said Beckham.

Throw in the fact that Beckham is chasing his first MLS Cup in probably his last year at the club (this could be his last competitive game for the Galaxy should they lose), and the pulling power appears obvious.

The ripple affect is also filtering across to other teams in the league too, with the Philadelphia Union, another team in the play-offs, reporting TV viewing figures 5-years ahead of schedule.

Whilst Beckham can't and won't take all the credit, his impact has undoubtedly played a part in the growth of the game not just in big cities like LA and New York, but across the country as a whole.

And, with a big audience expected, what price on Beckham producing another fine display as he moves towards what matters most - trophies.

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