Whilst David Beckham can’t be credited with transforming the fortunes of Major League Soccer completely, the former England captain has certainly played his part in making the league a desirable place to play football.
When the former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder opted for the Los Angeles Galaxy ahead of other European options back in 2007, plenty of eyebrows were raised. For many, it was a decision motivated by money.
But, whilst cash was obviously a factor in the decision-making process for the 37-year-old, his desire to help the game grow in America can’t be underestimated. That passion remains as strong as ever.
"I've seen first hand how popular soccer is now in the States and I'm as committed as ever to growing the game here," Beckham told the official Galaxy website back in January after signing a new two-year contract with the club.
"My family and I are incredibly happy and settled in America and we look forward to spending many more years here."
Beckham has always insisted that the happiness of his family is key, and their settled lifestyle in LA was a pivotal factor when the 115-cap international rejected opportunities to play elsewhere around the world.
Other offers were on the table, he claimed, but the chance to continue in America was too good to refuse. And, despite a pay cut, he remains the highest earner in Hollywood as one of the Galaxy’s designated players.
This ‘designated player’ rule was introduced to help secure the signature of Beckham, allowing MLS clubs to effectively break their own salary cap to sign one ‘marquee’ player.
The rule has since been expanded to allow a maximum of three designate players over the age of 23, as well as a number of other rules to include youngsters.
These changes have enabled the MLS to attract a host of top players to the league, with Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Freddie Ljungberg and Rafael Marques just four additional examples.
But, to take the game to the next level, the MLS would love to add another Beckham. Whilst Henry arguably offers more to the New York Red Bulls, his name does not transcend around the world like David Beckham.
In fairness to the Frenchman, few names do.
However, Cristiano Ronaldo is a man on a mission in world football, regarded as one of the game’s greatest players alongside Barcelona playmaker Lionel Messi.
After spells at Manchester United and Madrid, his name is certainly up their as one of the biggest and brightest. His style, swagger and good looks have already helped build a profile Stateside.
Crucially, the 27-year-old is open to a move to America, again proving that the league’s profile in the US has rocketed thanks to the arrival of Beckham and the use of pre-season tours involving Europe’s top clubs.
"Coming here, to do the pre-season, for me is great because this country is brilliant. The mentality of the people, the conditions, we are in the right place," he told a reporter.
"(The soccer here) is good, but it can be better. If I can help it to be better, soccer here, I can help. I think they are great; they are in a good way. I hope to come here to play one day."
Such comments must be music to the ears of both the MLS as a whole and the bigger clubs like LA and New York, who have the power to attract the best names thanks to their location as much as standing in the division.
In two-years time, Galaxy boss Bruce Arena will hope to replace Beckham with another big name, whilst the Red Bulls will know Henry doesn’t have too many years left in the tank.
Realistically, Ronaldo would only make the move to the USA in the later stages of his career, and so fans of ‘soccer’ might have to wait a few years before the Portuguese winger swaps Europe for North America.
But, if he does, the MLS might just move to the next level in terms of both popularity – home and abroad – and standard.
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