Beckham sprinkled his stardust and more players are crossing the pond – so is the MLS booming or is the US just a place Premier League careers go to die
season – more than regularly pack in to watch Chelsea and not
far off the number who turn up at Anfield – you begin to
understand his excitement.
MLS crowds generally were up last
season. An average attendance of 18,807 made for the seventh-most
popular football league in the world in terms of bums on seats.
Biggest star in the Galaxy: Beckham moved to Los Angeles amid a blaze of publicity in 2007
Hollywood ending: Beckham and his sons celebrate the MLS Cup win in his final game
Paltry television viewing figures for MLS in the US remain a
cause for concern, however, as evidenced by a drop in the number who
watched the 2012 MLS Cup from the previous season’s final. Not even
David Beckham’s walk off into the sunset could save that one.
No talk of MLS progress is complete without referencing Beckham’s legacy of course. Having arrived at LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007, the world’s most bankable footballer played a defining role in building the profile of the league.
Even when things weren’t going right on the pitch, Beckham was still selling the Galaxy brand and putting MLS in places it had never before been able to reach.
Beckham made everything to come possible. Seven new MLS franchises launched during his five years in LA, and the increased profile he generated for the league has helped lure the likes of Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Carlo Cudicini and Alessandro Nesta to bring their considerable reputations in his wake.
Keane to raise the profile: The Ireland striker (left) has followed Beckham to America
Republic of Ireland striker Keane has
won two MLS Cups in two seasons at LA Galaxy and was named in the
league's best XI for 2012.
Among the other ex-Premier League players to
be found in the US include former West Brom midfielder Giles Barnes, now
plying his trade at Houston Dynamo, and Wales striker Robert
Earnshaw, who arrived at Toronto FC this season.
Former Arsenal and Manchester United full back Mikael Silvestre is another recent arrival. The Frenchman signed for Portland Timbers this season, whose goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts will also be a familiar name to those who follow the lower reaches of the English game. And then there's Tim Cahill, the Australian who left Everton to join Henry at New York Red Bulls in 2012.
New York Red Bulls team-mates: Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, respectively once of Arsenal and Everton
It’s not just the quality of players
arriving in the MLS that we should be looking as testament to progress.
There’s also the evidence supplied by MLS graduates able to adjust to
supposedly superior leagues when they leave.
Carlos Bocanegra, Clint
Dempsey and Michael Bradley are shining examples. Brek Shea is early in
his career at Stoke but already being talked about as a potential
Premier League game-changer. Meanwhile, American goalkeepers are
Premier League one day have enough faith in the MLS to use it as a
feeder league It may be a natural next step, especially when you
consider the desire of English clubs to market themselves aggressively
in the US market.
Premier League exports: Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and Mikael Silvestre
Everywhere you look there are signs the MLS is building slowly on its foundation — one laid on the back of the US hosting the 1994 World Cup.
We shouldn’t expect a league to compare with the best in Europe any time soon, but well-planned growth is pointing towards a product that will only get better in time.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of Beckham’s time in American will be seen if the MLS continues to grow without him.
In a land far, far away: Robert Earnshaw and Giles Barnes are both plying their trade in MLS