When David Beckham first arrived in Major League Soccer back in 2007, many believed the English superstar was only coming for the big payday and would do very little to help grow the game in North America.
But fast-forward to 2012 and Beckham is fresh off an MLS Cup victory with the LA Galaxy and has committed another two years to the franchise and the now 19-team league.
Although Beckham says it was a rough transition, he is happy with what he accomplished in his first five years in Los Angeles and looks forward to helping strengthen the league.
“The first couple of years were kind of difficult,” Beckham said during a sitdown interview with Sportsnet’s Stephen Brunt. “We didn’t have any stability throughout the club. The last three years have been very successful. We won the MLS Cup the last year … So yeah I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted to achieve.”
Beckham’s biggest impact hasn’t just come on the field but the attention and intrigue he’s attracted has been a huge boost for MLS.
“I think it’s been a qualified success,” Brunt told Hazel Mae on Sportsnet Connected following his interview with Beckham. “The LA Galaxy, he won a championship with them last year. He was fully fit and was a great player in MLS last year.
“He got a ton of publicity for the league outside of the pitch. If you look at the expansion teams that have been added since he joined the league and the new stadiums built — I think that’s the proper measure. That’s been the biggest difference.”
Beckham cites the role he’s played in the growth of MLS as one of his proudest accomplishments during his time living in the United States.
“Off the field, I wanted to be an MLS ambassador and raise the profile of the game,” Beckham explained. “Also, we’ve seen the league grow; stadiums being built solely for soccer. Attendances are up and competing with basketball and baseball — big thing in the (United) States and I’ve seen the change.”
Since Beckham made the jump from European soccer, other big names such as Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane have made their way to MLS. However, the 36-year-old Beckham says if MLS wants to continue on its current path, they need to start recruiting players out of Europe at a younger age as well as further developing their youth academies.
“To get players like (Thierry) Henry into the league, that takes the play to a different level. Now every MLS club in the league has a youth system. In Europe, you’re used to that. Now that’s changed … MLS needs to get more 25-year and 26-year-old players from Europe. Henry and Keane are household names.”
Brunt believes that Beckham can continue to make an impact, even after he hangs up his boots form MLS.
“I think he’ll wind up as an owner,” Brunt explained. “He has a vision for this league. More big-time players like him; a big-money MLS that can compete with European football. That’s where he thinks the league is going to go.”
Beckham and the Galaxy will take on Toronto FC at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League tie. The former Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan player says he is fired up to play in front of the energetic Toronto crowd.
“To be honest, I was excited they changed stadiums because you always want to play in front of more people. The game is sold-out which is exciting for both teams. I’ve played in Toronto a couple of times before. I know how the fans are. I know how passionate they are. That’s the kind of atmosphere you should really enjoy.”
Beckham says he has no immediate plans to return to play in Europe but the midfielder has expressed an interest in playing for England at the upcoming London 2012 Olympics in front of his home crowd.
“That’s obviously a real option that hopefully will happen … Hopefully I’ll be selected to be part of that team. Never been part of Olympics before. Always been a big fan of the Games; never played in one so it’d be exciting if I do.”