Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Can’t wait for Beckham to bend it for the U.S. (MNA Jan. 07)

Associate Editor

Many people in the U.S. probably don’t know who David Beckham is. In Europe, everyone knows him. He is a talented athlete. He makes the women faint. He is married to a former Spice Girl. In Europe, he is a superstar.
I came to know him when I vacationed with my family in London and Norway this past summer. Our trip fell at a very opportune time, as we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of World Cup Soccer, or “football,” as the rest of the world calls it.
Soccer in the U.K. and Europe, is bigger than any sporting event that I have experienced here in the states. These people go absolutely NUTS for the sport. Men, women, the young, the old. Everyone has their favorite team, and an opinion about a certain player. Fathers and sons, husbands and wives, brothers, are divided in their football team allegiances.
My entire family, too, was swept up by the whole mania of World Cup Soccer, the event which happens only every four years. The 31 day, 64 game extravaganza in Germany last year was some of the most exciting sports action I have ever followed.
I’ll admit. I was surprised.
Soccer has always had a slim following in the U.S., cited with having too little action, and too few goals. I bought into this analysis, too.
But once I gave the sport a chance, and had the opportunity to learn from our English and Norweigan hosts, my eyes were opened. This is a sport which we just haven’t given a chance yet in this country.
Enter Beckham.
He is to the U.K., and to the soccer (football) world what any sports superstar in the U.S. is. He is a Michael Jordan, or a Tiger Woods. His charisma and play brings that much to the sport.
Captain of the English team during the cup, he currently plays for the Spanish team, Real Madrid, which he joined in 2003 after a hugely successful run with Manchester United, where he won six league titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League title. But Beckham did not win a single major trophy with the Spanish club, and his spell coincided with Madrid's worst slump since the early 1950s.
So now, because of recent changes that Major League Soccer, (the league here in the states) has made, he is coming to play for the L.A. Galaxy when his contract runs out in June.
This is huge.
"David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally," said Timothy J. Leiweke, president & CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Galaxy. "David is truly the only individual that can build the bridge between soccer in America and the rest of the world."
While sitting in an English pub during a match. I saw the power of Football, and of Beckham. The packed room had an almost electric feeling. Anticipation filled the air. Fans were mesmerized by the many big screen TV’s, carrying, of course, World Cup Soccer.
They cheered, they screamed, they cursed the referees. The fans wore their favorite team’s jerseys. They spilled their beers and stomped their feet. They were fans, rabid ones — as dedicated and in love with the sport as any American football, baseball, basketball or hockey fan.
And I think this feeling can cross the pond. That’s why I’m excited that Britain’s golden boy is coming to America, and to Major League Soccer.
Because if anyone can energize the sport in the U.S., it is Beckham.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

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