In a three-day series ahead of Wednesday's US-Mexico tilt, The Kin of Fish is looking back at this amazing Summer of Soccer. Yesterday we reviewed the US Men's National Team's run to the Confederations Cup Final. Today we look at the biggest story in American Soccer in July... the return of David Beckham to the LA Galaxy.
Part 2: Of Books and Boos: Beckham Returns
What soccer (and American soccer) in particular needs is a little drama, and Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Grant Wahl delivered that drama in spades last month with the release of The Beckham Experiment: How the World's Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America.
The book is like no other in its examination of life inside an MLS club, with all the intrigue, surprise, and humor you'd expect from a television soap opera. Wahl deftly mixes interviews with former Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas, who comes off as a man of vision whose power gets usurped by Team Beckham; Alan Gordon, the embodiement of the struggling underpaid MLS journeyman, trying to stay afloat financially; and Galaxy star Landon Donovan, whose comments questioning Beckham's commitment to the Galaxy created as big a "media firestorm" as any event in MLS history.
The only point of view missing is David Beckham's of course. Wahl states that Beckham's people wanted to be paid for Goldenballs' participation in the project, which may be standard practice in the UK. Beckham himself called the book "unauthorized" during his press conference before his first 2009 MLS match. All in all, The Beckham Experience is a must-read for any fan of MLS, of American Soccer, or of David Beckham. It's the first real major-media look behind the scenes of the hush-hush single-entity league, and Wahl's portrayal of the day-to-day life of MLS players is both enlightening and entertaining.
Of course, the book brought more attention to American soccer and MLS, though Beckham and LA (and a woeful NY squad) drew only 23,000 fans to Giants Stadium on July 16th, his first stateside match. The 2007 and 2008 NY-LA matches drew 66,000 and 44,000 respectively. Beckham-mania certainly seemed reduced in his third MLS go-around, though LA has drawn decent crowds in Kansas City and New England.
It was on July 19th, though, that Becks' relationship with American fandom hit its nadir. Playing in his first home match of the year, Beckham, incensed by the fan group LA Riot Squad's needling, Becks challenged a fan to come down and take him on. When one jumped from the stands to the field, Beckham tried to play it off as if he wanted to shake the fans' hand. The ugly incident made sports television around the world, and exposed the huge rift between the Becks and American fandom. Most fans believe that #23 will only be here until the end of the season before heading back to Europe, no matter how "committed" he says he is to LA for now.
Becks wants desperately to make the 2010 England World Cup Squad, and coach Fabio Capello has stated that Beckham needs to be back playing in Europe by December to even be considered. Sadly, if Becks had waited until after WC 2010 to join MLS, he'd be more authentic in his claim to want to grow American Soccer. He just headed over the pond three years too soon.
What makes Beckham's 2009 run with the Galaxy different, of course, it that for the first time in three seasons the club is actually winning. The Gals had won three straight before Beckham's arrival, and is 2-0-1 in MLS since Becks has been with the squad. In fact, LA is the hottest team in the league right now, and is challenging Houston for the top spot in the West. The Galaxy in great shape to end the club's three-year playoff drought, and could make a run at the title. That'd be the send off Becks, and LA fans, could only dream of.
Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the successful European club friendlies that have taken the US by storm over the past few weeks, and share thoughts on the ultimate match of the Summer of Soccer, the US visiting the Azteca in tomorrow's World Cup Qualifier with Mexico.